The “War and Remembrance” Thread

This is a quick follow on description of plans for the “war and remembrance” thread that began with  Air War Vietnam: Remembrance at 40 Years – All Days Come From One Day and continued with Dangerous Sky – Combat Rescue: Part #1 – Sandy Superb, and Dangerous Sky – Combat Rescue:  Part # 2 – Wolf FAC. It’s main purpose is as a lead-in and an intro to upcoming excerpts from Dave Snako Kelly’s book, Not On My Watch.

As  Midway departed earlier than expected in April ’72, Dave would begin his second war cruise, eventually accumulating over 200 combat missions in the A-6 Intruder. While all fighter and attack aircraft flew multiple types of strike/bombing missions – both large strikes called “Alpha Strikes” and small armed reconnaissance missions in two plane sections – the Intruders flew without question the toughest, most dangerous missions of the war – night low level single plane strikes deep into North Vietnam. Later in my career, I accumulated over 600 hours in the A-6.  It’s a great airplane, fun to fly, especially low and fast down some river gorge, but I didn’t want their mission then and I wouldn’t want it now. Snako’s stories of the VA-115 A-rabs are great reads … coming now.

In Spring 1972 things were a lot more straight forward than during Rolling Thunder operations prior to the October 1968 bombing halt by President Johnson. NVN General Giap had initiated a three pronged regular army offensive into South Vietnam, and with the draw down of U.S. forces well under way, President Nixon had little choice but to call on air power. But this time the rules were changed. I most definitely mean no disrespect for the effort and bravery of Rolling Thunder folks, but politics, a misunderstanding of how air power works at the highest level of government, mission restrictions, the evolving air defense threat, understanding of both outcome desired and possible, on and on made that time frame a mess – and we paid dearly.

Since the “old men” of NVN already had a victory at hand in late ’71, the Easter Offensive was absolutely unnecessary, the question arises as to why invade the South? Multiple sources indicate they wanted no victory over President Nixon just handed to them, they wanted a “real battlefield victory” type thing with at minimum extra territory under NVN control before the peace agreements that were surely and quickly coming.

President Nixon responded the only way he could – re-introduction of massive air power, rules of engagement were relaxed, our senior flight leaders had been there before and they really adjusted, and led the rest of us well… and the mission was clear – stop the Easter Offensive.  As noted, USS Midway left Alameda California on 10 April 1972 to become part of a six carrier offensive from the Navy side. A year later, it was over. The whole of the Vietnam War was certainly a complex issue –and included heavy political aspects for both Presidents Johnson and Nixon – and so in short, Kissinger did what he did – so was it done, so has it been written.The U.S. was out of the war, the POWs home, end of story. The Vietnam War goes down in America’s loss column.

Given that war is about politics by other means (the good von Clausewitz), there can be no argument there. But from a pure airpower application and metric, well, I think there’s something else to be said.  You know Lieutenants don’t win/lose wars, frankly neither do squadron COs or CAGs. We simply fulfill what we volunteered to do … carry out the mission day-day. Our metric of success is not the win or loss of the war. So consider this mission metric:

  • The Easter Offensive is considered to have been finished in Oct ’72. THE NVN lost, and lost heavily – based on sources, 75-100,000 troops.  Those sources also report that the generals in Hanoi stated that it would take at least 3 years before they could mount anything of any size again.
  • Still the NVN politburo would not negotiate to a finish, and so Nixon initiated Linebacker II – the 11 day Christmas offensive.   When all was said and done, senior NVN generals wondered why we stopped, they were on their knees, out of SAMs, their manufacturing capability for re-supply destroyed – Hanoi and Haiphong were basically defenseless.
  • On 2 January 1973 negotiations recommenced
  • American Prisoners of War began arriving at Clark Air force Base in the Philippines on the 14th of February. (Note: The VA-56 Champs  had the name of a POW under our own names right below the canopy rail . Paul Galanti’s name was on NF 400, under that of Champ Commanding Officer CDR Lew Chatham, being  the best of friends and having flown in the same squadron earlier in the war.)

At the level of just doing your job, our mission was accomplished!  We did what was needed, did we not?

So back to Remembered Sky and this 40 year old thread to hang stories on.

Here in Ventura, the local paper has a young gal who every week or so puts out stories of locals from WWII service. Good stuff, but a dwindling group needless to say. Those of us from ’72 are now pretty much the Social Security set. If the stories of 1972 are to be conveyed – at least by me – it doesn’t make any sense to wait. This is 40th anniversary of the Easter Offensive and the Linebacker response. Who the hell will be around at the nice number 50th? I’ve always loved flying, history, and almost majored in journalism… so here’s my Pre Mad Cow onset chance… Fight’s on.  Boris sends!

Going backwards from a Mid-Dec stake in the ground, here is the planned focus:

  • The Christmas Offensive -Linebacker II and in particular the least told story in the whole war… the role of the A-6s.
  • A-6 night ops stories as a lead in. (note that throughout the storytelling process, I want to break out the three major mission distinctions by A/C type. We all dropped bombs, but each aircraft/squadron type had a mission distinctly theirs:
    • F-4 – MiGCAP > Kill MiGs (VF-151 Switchboxes, VF-161 Rock Rivers)
    • A-7 – Ironhand > Kill/suppress SAMs (VA-56 Champs, VA-93 Ravens)
    • A-6 – Night single ship low levels deep into the most highly defended areas of North Vietnam(VA-115 A-rabs)
  • Stories not only from Midway, but other ships/wings and the Air Force 366 Tactical Fighter Wing out of Thailand
  • “The Bad night for Schoolboy” – The 24 Oct accident on Midway (a carry-over series from the Project White Horse site). Please note that one serious thread for telling these stories is the carrier itself AND the “shirts” who busted their ass for us ne’re-do-well college “gifts to the world.” I’ve already put up a page/tab for the 1987 War College Review piece on high reliability organizations.

That brings us to today: Dave Kelly’s unpublished book, 350+ pages from the  A-6 perspective. Dave and I have been working together for some time on the “war and remembrance” idea, and so now, after an excerpt from his prologue to Not On My Watch, the series begins with pieces of Chapters 30-33 focusing on the multi-plane strikes into North Vietnam – the Alpha Strikes.

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