Talking Proud --- Military

The O-1 "Bird Dog," the toughest dog in the fight, "our little flivver"

March 26, 2006

The Bird Dog in the Vietnam-Laos Wars


Capt. Ray Caryl, USA, 220th Recon Aircraft Company (RAC): Capt. Caryl, “Catkiller 32/42” grew up in Port Angeles, Washington where rain became the norm in his life. He felt the heat of the draft board, so he enlisted. Ray has told us, “Typical under achiever in school, tried college for a few years and managed to get tossed out of a couple of pretty good ones due to poor grades. Was about ready to get drafted, so decided to enlist. It took my Basic Training drill sergeant, SFC. Cruz-Rivera, (still remember that man's name) all of 90 seconds to get me to ‘see the light’ and turn away from my errant ways of sloth, over indulgence and disrespect for authority.”

He then applied for OCS, was accepted, then Airborne training and then flight school. Ray has provided us with some memoirs.

“During spring 1968the 1st Cav moved into northern I Corps to begin ‘Operation Pegasus’ and relieve the Marines at Khe Sanh. They staged out of Dong Ha. Every aircraft the Cav owned had a big yellow 1st Cav patch painted on it. I'm sure it didn't take long for the NVA to figure out who they would soon be up against.


“My unit, the 220th RAC, CatKillers, were OPCON (operational control) to the 3rd MARDIV (Marine Division) and as such was a pretty unique Army Bird Dog unit. I had flown many missions on the DMZ where I was the only aircraft visible for miles, sometimes seeing only one or two Marine CH-34 or CH-46 helicopters off in the distance in the course of an entire day. You can imagine how cluttered the sky became when the Cav and it's seemingly hundreds of helicopters showed bugs around a porch light on a summer evening!

“Immediately after Operation Pegasus wound down, two battalions of NVA moved south across the Ben Hai river into ‘Leatherneck Square’ (the area between Dong Ha on the south, and McNamara's Trace bounded on the west by Con Tien and on the east by Gio Linh) over the course of two nights. The trails grew to be almost as wide as a two lane road and just as shiny. A few days later, the ARVN Rangers were on a sweep south of Con Tien and ran into the NVA. One hell of a battle ensued. The 1/9 Air Cav (the wildest bunch of young killers you will ever encounter) pounced and the battle raged.

“I was flying an artillery adjustment mission with a lieutenant backseater out of the 108th Arty based at Camp Carroll and saw two 1st Cav H-13s cross in front of me from right to left at my altitude (1000ft AGL), disappearing from my vision (and pretty much from conscious thought as I was busy) to my left rear. A couple of minutes later, as I initiated a left turn, something impacted my Bird Dog with bone jarring force.

“Holy crap!

“I immediately went straight and level, checked my instruments and controls, goosed the throttle a couple of times....everything OK....then checked to my left....tail, wing, wing strut...all there. To my right...tail, backseater with eyes as big as saucers, wing, wing strut, right landing gear....OK.

“Wait a minute....right landing left landing gear!

“Something had ripped the left landing gear completely out of my Bird Dog. That's when I noticed only one H-13 off in the distance and what looked like trails of white phosporous forming a plume in the sky right about where the other H-13 should have been.
Now thoughts of structural failure lept into my mind....let's see, the wing strut is connected to the bulkheard directly above where the landing gear strut is attached. Something impacting my aircraft with enough force to rip the landing gear from the bulkhead surely jeopardizes the integrity of the wing strut attachment, and if that fails, there is a good chance that my left wing will fold up and I will fall from the heavens....not good.

“We closed out with our artillery battery, headed immediately for Dong Ha some ten miles or so away and told the tower to alert crash rescue.

“Due to the heavy combat just north of Dong Ha, the single-runway airfield was extremely busy. Everything from Hueys to C-130s were landing and taking off in a nonstop procession. Knowing that I would ground loop with only one main landing gear and concerned about fire as my aircraft scraped along on the grit-impregnated alloy-panel runway, I elected to ‘land’ in the dirt right beside the runway.


“The gods were smiling that day. Not only did whatever-it-was that flew from the exploding H-13...and it had to be heavy....hit me in just about the only place that wouldn't have either killed me outright or completely destroyed my Bird Dog in flight, there also just happened to be an old, abandoned foxhole right beside the runway that I did not see.


“I touched down in a three point pitch-attitude (actually, two) and just as the lift in my left wing was departing and the left wing started to drop, the right landing gear rumbled across, and down into the fox hole, tearing the right landing gear rearward, resulting in a belly slide of a hundred feet or so and no groundloop! As I said, the gods were smiling.

“Crash showed up, shot some foam on the ground where the fuel that was running out of the tanks was accumulating, and we stood around amazed that we had survived. An hour or so later, I was summoned to the GP medium tent where the Major who commanded the 1/9 Cav was sitting behind a small field desk. After reporting to him, he grilled me briefly on what had happened, I think insuring that I had not mid-aired with one of his helicopters. He was a cold, all business character and when I said that I was sorry that he had lost one of his crews, he told me that the 1/9 Cav expected losses and to ‘get the hell out of his tent.’

“I saluted, about faced, got the hell out of his tent and silently thanked God that I was in the 220th RAC flying Bird Dogs and not flying helicopters for the 1/9 Cav. I suppose he had to be hard core to command an aviation unit that was always losing pilots and aircraft (later I had a bud at Ft. Rucker who flew H-13s for the 1/9 Cav and had seven of them shot out from underneath him and survived), but he seemed like a certifiable asshole to me.

“Here’s a shot of a six month old Cessna O1-G, 0-12274, plus a couple of AK-47 holes, a shot of the DMZ and yours truly.....proving that we were young once, ten feet tall, bullet-proof and handsome.”

In a later note, Ray sent these added comments about some USAF Covey FACs.


“There were two USAF Covey pilots, both majors, who were flying Cessna 0-2s out of Dong Ha during spring of '68. They couldn't have been more dissimilar. One was a tall, handsome, genial, handlebar-mustached fellow who could have easily been a professor at a midwestern liberal arts college, and the other was a pear-shaped, bespectled, thinning-haired curmudgeon (bad tempered) who didn't seem to like anybody! I actually got a flight with the tall Major.....did a sweet aileron roll over Dong Ha (probably stressed the crap out of that 0-2).

“One day, the curmudgeon returned from a flight over Khe Sanh with his aircraft all shot up. Rear engine was running but the front engine was leaking fluid like a sieve and shut down. The curmudgeon taxied in to the revetment area, shut down the rear engine, got out, walked once around the aircraft, violently kicked a tire and stomped off.

“We Army pilots, being more than a bit curious, went to his aircraft to check out the damage. We counted 37 bullet entry holes and then proceeded to line up what we thought were the corresponding entry and exit holes.......There was no way that short, pear-shaped major could have escaped being riddled with holes! Best as we could figure, the moment he had begun taking fire, he had to have somehow climbed out of his airplane in flight and sat on a wing tip until the shooting stopped. You Blue-suiters must lead a charmed life.”

Capt Lucius Heiskell (Nail 65), 23rd Tactical Air Control Squadron