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TITLE: Arriving In Vietnam
Author Ivan Pierce
Copyright, 2000

By MSgt. Ivan N. Pierce. U.S. Army Reserve retired

Ariving in Vietnam

Most soldiers who went to Vietnam have a story to tell about their arrival. I went to infantry officer candidate school at Fort Benning, Ca., graduated in May 1966 and was immediately sent to Fort Polk, La., for my initial six months of duty. There I was assigned to an advanced infantry training school as the executive officer of a training company. Each graduate was sent to a regular unit for six months before being dispatched to Vietnam. I completed this tour and was subsequently sent to Fort Amador, Panama Canal Zone, for a two-week jungle operations course. While there, I got orders assigning me to the 4th Infantry Division, Pleiku, Vietnam.

We flew from California's Travis Air Force Base to Hickam Field in Honolulu. We then had an eight-hour flight from Hawaii to Guam and a 12-hour flight to Vietnam.

While most of us were apprehensive about going to Vietnam and the fates that awaited us, we were also tired from the long flights. Many soldiers slept during the last leg of the flight When the plane reduced power and began to drop from 34,000 feet to 5,000 feet for the approach to Da Nang, however, we were all awake, and the apprehension began to grow and the adrenaline to flow.

The standard approach to the Da Nang airfield by civilian aircraft required pilots to approach the runway at 5,000 feet and be aligned perfectly with its end. They were then required to dive for the end of the runway and level out their approach just as they passed over the final runway lights. As we finished our dive and began to level out, I saw two F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber jets parked at the far end of the runway.

The F-4s had their engines running and were waiting for us to land before they took off. I was pressed hard against the window trying to observe everything about my coming arrival. I saw the white stripes indicating the approach end of the runway passing under our wing. In the next instant I saw fireballs erupting at the far end of the runway, right behind the F-4s. Someone was lobbing mortars at them.

Next I heard a tremendous whine as the engines were shoved to full emergency power. The entire alrcraft began to shake violently. In the next few minutes we severely stress tested every rivet and bolt in the aircraft. Next we felt the wheels being slammed back into the body of the plane and the wheel doors crashing shut.
While we were traversing the length of the runway, the F-4s fired their afterburners and took off straight at us. It seemed as if it took us hours to reach the far end of the runway.

As we passed over it, we reached an altitude of 2,500 feet. The pilot then threw us into a sharp right-hand bank. As he did this, I had an unobstructed view of the end of the runway where the F-4s had been parked.
Suddenly I saw them flashing across, about a quarter of a mile from the end of the runway. Then, as they passed under our right wing, the ground below burst into one fireball after another as the F-4s bombed the area that they suspected the mortar fire was coming from.

We climbed back to 30,000 feet and circled above Da Nang for nearly an hour before we were allowed a second approach. Again we dove from 5,000 feet, but this time the landing was uninterrupted. The pilot quickly taxied to the appropriate point of disembarkation. When the door opened, an Air Force sergeant came through the door said, "Gentlemen, I must ask that you exit the aircraft as rapidity as possible."

It did not take long for us to leave that plane!

 

MSGT IVAN N. PIERCE retired from the U.S. Army Reserve.
In early 1967 he went to Vietnam as a lieutenant.

ARMY- April 2OOO

Author: Ivan Pierce


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