I, Pat Kenny, am sure we all had the opportunity at one time or another to spend those tense moments standing in front of the C.O.'s desk being “advised” on the proper conduct of a Marine Officer and Gentleman, and in some of our cases as aviators. I seemed to have my share of occurrences and so became somewhat of an expert on how to perfect an incidence that was duly worthy of the attention of our commanding officer. One such incident, that gave a very good Commanding Officer another gray hair or two, is related here.
It was August the 29th, 1970 and It was hot and humid. I was the aircraft commander on the 4th bird of the mission 80 package. My co-pilot was Daryl Cooper. This was the 3rd time that Cooper and I were scheduled to fly together and he was fairly new in country at the time. So, we were beginning to feel a little comfortable with each other. We had shut the birds down for the night, but being the 4th bird we left everything ready to go for the night run of FRAGS (Fragmentary Missions) pick up over at Division Headquarters in Da Nang which usually took place around 8 pm. We had gone to dinner and were hanging around the hooch area afterwards laughing and cutting up with some of the Foxes.
As I remember, we were watching Randy Magg throw his knife (most aviators didn't know what else to do with these) against a piece of plywood set up against the hootch door. Someone commented that he was pretty good and could be in the Olympics if they had that event. Beer started to flow and before you know it, I had literally forgot about the Mission 80 last bird duties and was partaking with the rest of the bunch. We began testing ourselves against each other in some known Olympic events like broad jumping, high jumping, pole vaulting( only without the pole) and just having a grand ‘ol time of it. As it was getting long about 8 pm , the squadron duty clerk came over to the hootch area and reminded me that I had to launch on the FRAG run.
Well, I knew I couldn't fly in my condition, so I begged Dave Owens to take it. He had been drinking with us and declined. This went on until I exhausted all possible replacements. Alas, too many of us had participated in the “Olympics.” That is all but Cooper, so what the hell, I decided I could do it and Cooper could do the flying. I tried to find the duty driver but to no avail, so I had to hoof it to the squadron area. I was already late so I began jogging. The jog turned into a run and by the time I reached the squadron area, I was soaked with beer sweat and feeling like warmed over s---. Cooper was already in the aircraft and had been patiently sitting there wondering what the hell was going on. I ran up the back ramp, jumped in the seat and started throwing switches, and started the bird. I acted like nothing was wrong with the scene and asked Cooper why the bird hadn't been turning when I got there. He just looked at me and said, “Are you all right?” Ok, let's get this mission going, we are burning daylight. Actually it was dark already. I told Cooper to go ahead and take the flight. He just looked at me. “I really think you should”, he said. “I have never come out of a revetment at night and I have no idea where we are going.” Oh what the hell…I got it. I backed out of the revetment and headed for the runway.
I stopped at the hold short line and called Tower, “Tower, Swift 14 for take off.” Tower: “Say again, Swift”. “Tower, Swift 14, for take off.” Tower: “Sir, aren't you forgetting something?”. “Tower, I don't have time for your games, are you going to clear me for take off or what?” Tower: “Ok, Swift, you are cleared for takeoff”. So I took the duty runway and was getting ready to begin takeoff when the tower called again. “Swift 14, are you sure you want to take off, I think you are forgetting something!”. By this time, I am a bit short tempered, sweating profusely, hot, and not thinking clearly. “Tower, if you have a problem with me taking off, you better tell me what it is, or I am out of here”. “Sir, the duty FRAG Courier is waiting at the base of the tower for you.” (The Group Duty FRAG runner was always picked up at the base of the tower on last bird mission 80 launches.)
Total embarrassment set in. I could not believe I had forgot to pick up the runner. “Roger, Tower, be there shortly”. We picked up the courier, taxied to the runway, called for take off, we were cleared by the tower with “Good night, Sir, have a good flight.” It was a real rub in and I deserved it. Cooper just kept staring at me. I was pretty pissed at myself to say the least. Right there, I should have given the aircraft to Cooper and directed him to where we were going. But I was pissed and I was the HAC and I was going to fly. We took off to the south and turned immediately west and headed up the Cau Do river which passed south of Da Nang City and joined the Yen river which ran south toward “football island”. Anyway, we had our lights out and were flying fairly low. Cooper asked if this was normal to be flying down the river at night so low with our lights off. I thought I would have some fun with Cooper, so I said to him, “This is a lot safer than flying high and being seen and taking shots from the Villes”. Besides I was having fun flying down the river and banking with the bends. We were just about tree top level, maybe a tad lower. If you have ever flown a river at night, you will know what I mean when I say, it gets a bit confusing. I was concentrating on flying the aircraft, holding altitude, and not running into anything. That was about it. I had told Cooper to watch the engine instruments.
After about 20 minutes of flying, the crew chief ( I can't remember who was the crew chief that night) gets on the intercom and says, “Sir, you might want to look off to your right and to the rear.” I was right in the middle of a dissertation to Cooper on how you have to stay low and come up on ‘ol “one shot Charlie” who liked to snipe at helos near the Cau Do Bridge. That way, by the time he saw you, it was too late for him to get a shot. I immediately started climbing and turning right (north) just as a flurry of small arms tracers were trying to bracket us. As I pulled up I could see that we had actually drifted south along the Yen River and were well south of Da Nang and the city lights.
I quickly climbed to about 3,000 feet and set up a glide path into the Da Nang north-south runway and called Da Nang Tower. “Da Nang Tower, Swift 14, inbound from the south for landing.” Da Nang Tower: “Ahhhh…Swift 14….ahhh….we don't have you in sight yet…..proceed inbound and be advised there appears to be traffic well to the south inbound as well”. We had turned on our lights and the Tower was looking at us thinking we were the traffic. “Ahhh. Da Nang Tower, Swift 14, that would be us to the south, we took a little wider loop in this evening.” “Roger, Swift, cleared to land.” We landed at Da Nang, taxied off the runway and waited for the runner to do his thing.
Cooper just kept looking at me. As we sat there, I tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and told Cooper that he just got a grand tour of the rivers and just one of the many ways to avoid One Shot Charlie. I told Cooper at that point, that he surely knew the way home from Da Nang now and he had the aircraft. The runner (sometimes called a courier) took longer than normal to pick up the FRAGS and get back to the aircraft. No doubt he spent quite a bit of that time in the head trying to clean his drawers. In any case, he finely got aboard, although he did look a bit ashen. Cooper asked if we should go back the same way we came. “No, that is enough lessons for one night, why don't you just depart north and head east and we will approach Marble Mountain from the north on the return. That will give you a good sense of geography and where everything is.” Whew, I could not wait for this night to be over. We took a little more fire as we flew north over Da Nang and headed out over the bay and then east. We probably woke up some ARVN’s and they didn't like it. The rest of the night was a non-event and the next day was all back to normal. I vowed never again to let myself get into that situation.
I figured it was all behind us until one night about a week or two later when we were having a little squadron party at the Heavies hootch area. A few of the Foxes were rotating back home and it was sort of a farewell and at the same time we were changing C.O.’s. Lt.Col. Hank Steadman was being welcomed aboard by our outgoing C.O. Lt.Col. Scaglione. Those who were leaving each got up and gave a little farewell speech and said their pleasantries about the Foxes and wished all of us a speedy return home as well. Then someone began to ask the FNG’s to say a few words about their experiences and how it was going, and what was their perception of the Squadron. Cooper stood up, “Well, I just want to say, that I have the deepest respect and admiration for the pilots and crews in this squadron. I have been taught so much in such a short period of time….." and he went on and on and then word by word, blow by blow, Cooper related the mission 80 night flight we had with the courier to Da Nang. I knew my ass was on the chopping block, with just one glance at both C.O.’s. As we left the party that night, I grabbed Cooper and we had a Come To Jesus meeting about what he had said and what he would ever say in public in the future again if he planned on every making it home in one piece.
As I figured, there was a note in my box that the C.O. wanted to see me. I did the knock, presented myself smartly in front of Lt.Col. Steadman, whom I had just recently met, and stood firmly at attention. “At ease, Lieutenant” “Thank you, sir.” “Pat, let me get right to the point. I like a drink just as well as anyone…” and then with cold steel eyes that shot right through to my brain pan…”but I don't mix drinking and flying….DON’T YOU EVER FLY ONE OF MY AIRCRAFT AGAIN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL, DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR!?” “Yes Sir”. Period. End of story. “Now get out of here”. “Aye, Aye Sir”. About face, out the door, and straight into the head across the hall. As I bent over the sink and splashed water on my face, I looked in the mirror, “You dumb SOB, get your sierra in one bravo”.
It never happened again. Cooper and I flew together
a couple of more times after that and we laughed about the incident.
He honestly thought he was praising me for my great instruction on that
hot humid night. But he never again talked about his flights in public.
The Good Lord looks after the dumb and stupid. I am living proof.
Pat "Swift Chuck" Kenny, former 1stLt. USMCR
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