Remembering Det Danang

 

BEI Landing

The Danang missions were very different from the missions flown from Tan Son Nhut AB . The information we broadcast was via radio, not TV, and had a different audience and content. As Danang AB was only 80 miles from the DMZ, it was a convenient location from which to fly both psychological warfare missions intended for a North Vietnam audience as well as Special Operations Group (SOG) support for US troops along the DMZ and the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The aircraft we flew was Blue Eagle I (BUNO 131627). BE I was configured differently than the aircraft based at Tan Son Nhut, in that no television equipment was installed, and extra radio equipment (over that of the standard radio configuration on the TV aircraft) was installed to support this mission. When Blue Eagle I was unavailable due to longer-term maintenance requirements, Blue Eagle III was delivered to Danang AB to be flown by the Danang crew until Blue Eagle I returned.

Life at Danang AB was also very different from that at Tan Son Nhut. As we were closer to the DMZ, rocket and mortar attacks were more frequent, so we were a lot more “edgy” while on the ground. Our barracks was located close to the aircraft revetments, and mortar and rocket shells intended for the aircraft sometimes fell on or near the barracks. In one attack in 1967 the barracks was completely destroyed.

With only one aircraft, the detachment was much smaller, and some support ratings stationed at Tan Son Nhut were not present at Danang. Due to this, most of the crew members did “double duty” and sometimes performed two or more “secondary” jobs. Due to the smaller crew, crewmembers flew more missions per deployment than those who flew out of Tan Son Nhut. I can remember exceeding the number of missions recommended by NATOPS per month more than once. In-country R&R was available, just not as much as at Tan Son Nhut due to the tighter flight schedule.

We also had a bit more leeway at the barracks. We built an air-conditioned “lounge” in the area just behind the berthing area with material we “appropriated” from equipment laydown areas around the base. Two shipping cases for rockets were made into large ice chests, and part of the galley from BE I was removed and taken to the barracks. The enlisted mess made a profit by selling ice-cold sodas and beer, and access was restricted to only friends we could trust. We pooled our ration cards, and made frequent trips to the Freedom Hill BX for supplies. Cigarettes were $1.10 per carton, Sodas were $2.40 per case, and beer was just a little more expensive than sodas. I remember a quart of Bacardi rum was only $1.60. We bartered liquor for ice with the Marines, and “associate membership” in our mess for steaks, eggs, etc. The rule was that when the flight crew returned from the mission, all visitors were asked to leave so that the crew could “unwind”.

Jim Hicks ET1 (AC)