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War Stories

We’ve lost you... - 1970

Thomas "Sam" Dooling


Although the Scout Birds in D Troop were generally armed to the teeth, the real firepower was the Cobra. They were the team leader for the Hunter-Killer missions, and amongst other things, it was their job to keep track of the Scout 100% of the time so they could provide a rapid reaction with all of their firepower if the scout ran into trouble. The Cobra generally flew at 1500 – 2000 feet above the Scout, and what with all of their responsibilities of running the mission, flying the aircraft, etc., and trying to keep track of a scout that pretty much blended into the landscape (particularly over jungle); and with the Scout flitting from here to there at anywhere from 30 to 90 KTS, occasionally, the Scout would hear the dreaded words “we’ve lost you” come over the radio. In most cases, it was a simple matter for the Scout to circle around looking up and telling the Cobra where to look for them. However, it sometimes could lead to a somewhat higher anxiety level, as in the following case.

In late April – early May 1970, the ‘powers that be’ decided that we should invade Cambodia. I was 16 months into my tour and flying scouts for D Troop, ¾ Cav, 25th Infantry Division out of Cu Chi and Tay Ninh. I do not remember the exact date, but we were providing scout coverage out of Tay Ninh – two Hunter-Killer teams made up of an OH-6A scout and an AH-1G Cobra gunship. We reported to the TOC early in the morning and were told the good news – we were going to go have a look inside Cambodia and come back and tell them what we found – and we would be the first eyes-on into Cambodia (at least legally). They advised us that military intelligence folks thought there was activity in the areas we were assigned.

We cranked up and headed west across the border to have a look around our assigned areas. As with most scout pilots, I was much more comfortable at tree top level, so when we left Tay Ninh, I remained low level all of the way to the area of interest, with the Cobra trailing along and giving me guidance on where I needed to go.

As we approached our assigned area, I was clipping along at about 80 – 90 KTS over double and triple canopy jungle, and I noticed an area to my right that looked like a straight line in the jungle. I made a turn to go check the area out and almost immediately flew over a very well-traveled road – containing a number of olive drab painted vehicles on the road, including duce and a half-sized trucks, as well as numerous individuals wearing NVA uniforms and carrying AK-47s.

As luck would have it, my Cobra cover ship announced “We’ve lost you” just as I passed over this road!!!
I made a couple of “S” turns over the road (I was probably up to over 100 KTS now) just to verify what we had seen. Sure enough, there were probably 50 – 75 NVA regulars standing in the road looking up at us with surprised looks on their faces – while they were unshouldering their AK-47s. We also saw a couple of crossroads with 51 Cal machinegun emplacements at the road intersections – manned by some very surprised NVA. Along the sides of the roads were a numerous wooden buildings and tents.

About this time, I was thinking “my Cobra does not know where I am, we appear to in the middle of a NVA basecamp, and there were a whole lot more enemy than I felt comfortable with taking on by myself.” I made a 90-degree turn away from the road and started looking for my Cobra (all this time I was giving him a running commentary of what I was seeing over the radio). My 90-degree turn did not help much – other than putting me over denser jungle, it seemed that the basecamp was still under us – lots of roads, tents and buildings, more 51 cal. machinegun emplacements. And lots more NVA soldiers looking up at us with surprised looks on their faces (I think I was up to 120+ KTS by now – about as fast as the OH-6 would go).

My crew chief finally located my Cobra about two kilometers from where we were and he was headed away from us. I made another 90-degree turn now heading back to the “safety?” of Vietnam and was successful in exiting the basecamp, called my Cobra and told him to head for the border and we could hook up there.

As amazing as it seems, we did not fire a single shot and were not aware of anyone else firing a single shot at us – I think both sides were too surprised by the whole thing – apparently the NVA did not get the memo that we were invading them that day. We returned to Tay Ninh TOC and debriefed them on what we saw. They were very impressed and said they would send it up to the “highers”.

An interesting aftermath of this adventure was that the Tay Ninh TOC apparently got in trouble by sending Scout teams into Cambodia – the invasion for that area was assigned to the 1st Cav, and they already had missions laid on for the next day. Another interesting thing was that the 1st Cav had recently traded in their OH-6A scout helicopters for the new OH-58 – which were not nearly as agile as the OH-6. The 1st Cav did send scout teams into the same area that we “discovered” and ended up getting pretty much all of their 58’s shot to pieces. I’m not sure whether to attribute that to the less maneuverable scout helicopter or to the fact that many of the NVA now had the “invasion memo” thanks to our foray into Cambodia the previous day.

I really wish I had been taking more notes while I was in Vietnam. I am sad to say that I cannot remember who my crew was that day nor who my Cobra was. I do know that we all had a good laugh at the story we had when we got back – and then my crew (including me) all went and changed our underwear!

Sam Dooling