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

May 9, 2008 Addendum: Jim Taylor was told about this article by a friend, and he contacted us in late April 2008. I corrected a couple things he mentioned, but overall, he was happy with the article. At our request, he sent us a group of photos which we have added to the article.

Capt. James L. Taylor, USA, 184th RAC: Having been adjusting artillery in a fierce battle near Loc Ninh, putting it as close as 35 meters from friendly forces of the Big Red One Infantry Division, this Bird Dog's engine began missing, operating on four instead of six cylinders. The pilot kept the Dawg aloft while his observer kept laying in the artillery. This is Jim "in the day." On a lighter note, Capt Earl R. Kelton and SSgt Joe Holloway began a "Non-stop Paradrop" program for the kids in the Phu Loi area.

Capt. James L. Taylor flew the O-1 for the Army's 184th RAC, Third Platoon, and
has written about his experience in the Battle of Loc Ninh in northern III Corps, near the Cambodian border, specifically in November 1967. His story is interesting because he talks of his Dawg being temperamental at a very crucial time during his artillery adjustment mission.

This is a Dawg on your Army taxiway at Phu Loi, a strip of PSP. Courtesy of Jim Taylor.

Taylor's job was to support ground and artillery troops during a major engagement to impede the logistics flow from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The 1st Infantry Division, Big Red One, was in charge and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Black Horses, had joined with them in the battle plan. Several units made their move and enemy contacts were plentiful.

Sergeant and rifleman engage enemy with M16 rifles in one of many battles of Loc Ninh fought in November 1967. Presented by US Army.

Taylor had an artillery observer with him, callsign 50 Golf, and he spent most of his time adjusting artillery.

Frank Ledford working the back seat aboard a Bird Dog, running an artillery fire mission in 1971 northwest of Tay Ninh. Photo credit: Frank Ledford. Presented by 15th Field Artillery Regiment.

6-15 Field Artillery firing from Loc Ninh, RVN, May 1968. Photo credit: Bill Knauer. Presented by 15th Field Artillery Regiment.

After a while, Taylor was told to land at Loc Ninh and allow the forward observer on the ground to adjust fire.

Quan Loi Village, RVN. Courtesy of Jim Taylor

He landed, then flew to Quan Loi to refuel, and then flew back to Loc Ninh.

This is a Bird Dog at Kontum, RVN in the central highlands in 1970, First Field Forces, 6-14th Artillery. It's not Qui Lon, but you get the idea. Photo credit: Dennis Proux. Presented by 15th Field Artillery Regiment.

While flying back to Loc Ninh, he learned that some American forces were in a heavy engagement near Loc Ninh and needed help. Taylor orbited over the area and brought in some air attacks. His artillery observer called in artillery and pressed on with adjusting the fire.

The troops on the ground kept hollering for more artillery and 50 Golf was putting it in as close as 35 meters to friendly forces. A radio operator on the ground said they could see the enemy coming out of a hole in the mountain and opined they were behind every tree. Taylor had by this time been on his orbit for 1.5 hours. Then, his engine started missing. His observer asked what was wrong and Taylor told him to shut up and keep the artillery coming. Taylor said:

"The engine was missing so bad at times I had to use the primer and keep pumping the throttle like a demon to remain airborne. At times we would lose enough attitude to be hit by shrapnel from the 105s (artillery) when they would detonate in the trees."

Capt. Taylor just kept flying like this for another hour. Because of his engine problem, he was unsure of his fuel levels. He then asked for a helicopter to come and replace him while he refueled back at Loc Ninh. His request was granted but he was told to fly a round-about route so he would not get hit by incoming friendly artillery; the command post did not want to shut down the artillery just to let the Dawg through.

28th Assault Helicopter Co. "Tomahawk" helicopter slicks parked at Luscombe Field 1967 while Army Bird Dog lands. Once again, not Phu Loi, but you get the idea. Photo submitted by Presented by The Vietnam Experience, hosted by Vietnam Veteran Bill McDonald.

He made it to Phu Loi (home of the 74th and 184th RAC) as the re-routing took longer than expected. He then learned several units were now receiving heavy fire in another area, so he launched again, his artillery observer went back to work, and then he discovered the enemy was firing mortar rounds at his Dawg. They were exploding beneath the aircraft. Once this action quieted down, he returned to Phu Loi to find that he had been flying all this time on four cylinders instead of six!

Capt. Jim Taylor, right, with friend, always ready. Courtesy of Jim Taylor

His comment? "All in a day's work."

Jim Taylor is on the left, with other guys from the unit. They are all waiting for the call to go again, but first, breakfast! How did they get those two big guys in that Dawg? Courtesy of Jim Taylor

Keeping this lighter note, we ran across what some clever 184th guys defined as "all in a day's work" that will bring a little smile to our memories of the Vietnam-Laos Wars.

Capt. Earl R. Kelton, a Bird Dog pilot with the 184th RAC noticed one day that the Vietnamese kids would always come out and wave to US troops when they were on the move. So he and SSgt Joe Holloway thought up an idea where they would air drop "payloads" of candy and packs of gum to the kids as they flew over. Their idea was founded on simple ego --- they wanted the kids to wave at them too!

They got hold of some old flare chutes, cut them up, making a smaller canopy, taped up the goodies, and attached them to the shroud lines. Kelton escorted a convoy one day along Hwy 1 and took a couple of chutes with him, for his first "test flight." Of course, the kids, once they caught on, were delighted.

The red arrow points to a payload chute dropped by Capt. Earl Kelton, 184th RAC, from his Bird Dog to local kids around Phu Loi. Photo presented by 184th RAC Hawk September 1967.

Kelton approached the whole endeavor with extreme professionalism. You may have already noted he had to conduct a test flight. He said this:

"The (flying) technique is to first test the wind, then drop flaps and go in low and slow and drop the chutes from 50 or 100 feet. The little chutes will deploy just like the big ones if all goes well."

It all went exceedingly well and was dubbed the "Non-stop paradrop." Of course, GI ingenuity kicked in further and improvements were made. The chutes were dyed different colors, making them easier to see and more fun for the kids, and the company troops started contributing their extra stocks of candy and gum. Maintaining his high degree of professionalism, Kelton noted he was fully accountable to the company for these flights, saying:

"I have to give them (the company) a status report on all drops as soon as I'm back on the ground."

You can just hear it: "To hell with the NVA, they're all dead. Let's move on to my report on the 'Nonstop paradrop.' Hey bartender, a round for everyone!"

If you can't love your GI, you can't love anything.

Go to Capt. Tom O'Toole, USMC, VMO-6