Continuing the Easy Mode

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Welcome back fellow columnist Ronda Graff. We started out almost together years ago but she stepped out to have babies. Good to have you.

So the country is going to get back to work putting the COVID-19 pandemic behind us. Still this skeptical old gent is surprised at how many Americans cooperated. Then too we in Nebraska were lucky in that our Governor Rickets did not initiate the strictest travel restrictions like the majority of the other states did. Just another reason that makes this a great place in which to live.

The beautiful weather here last Saturday was reason to celebrate. My old Aeronca Champ airplane was getting tired just sitting in the hangar. So I called a buddy that was qualified and off we went into the blue. We didnít go very far, or very fast, or very high but it satisfied a growing itch from staying on the ground too long.

Sheltering at home has some relaxing advantages. Boring never! For one Iíve been catching up on reading. Light stuff like persons who wrote of their experiences in the Vietnam War. Ancient history now but I keep finding stories about persons that Iíve known and served with in the Air Force. Sometimes tragic their end but fulfilling to know what happened.

A case in point. I was reading, lots of time to read lately, Colonel Robin Olds life story. His daughter wrote from journals and notes he made throughout his life. It happens that he was commander of an F-4 outfit in Thailand during the time that I too flew missions in that area. I know that my crew refueled his Deputy Commander one day as they returned from a sortie into North Vietnam. His Deputy was a Colonel named Chappy James a big strong black man that had flown with the Tuskegee Airman right at the end of WWII. Anyway the unofficial slang among airman was that the team was proudly called Black Man and Robin and any one of us would have done anything for either of them. Good people.

In Robinís book he wrote of a mission to bomb a large bridge on the hiway leading out of Hanoi south into South Vietnam. It was the main route for supplies and for soldiers to infiltrate the South. The North Vietnamese had that bridge well defended with about every kind of anti-aircraft weapon known to man. The Navy tried and the Air Force tried to knock it out time after time with rockets and bombs and about all that our troops got done was to lose aircraft and crews. In fact that huge bridge was not knocked down until 1972 way late in the war.

Sometime about in 1967 someone got a brilliant idea that was sure to knock down that infamous bridge. The idea was to load large bombs into the back of a C-130 cargo aircraft. Then to sneak into North Vietnam late at night and drop those special bombs, that would float, into the river just above that huge bridge. When the bombs floated under the bridge a fuse would set them off and down would come the bridge. At least that was the plan.

Now I had friends that flew the C-130 hauling cargo everywhere in the Southeast Asia Theater. The C-130 had four large turboprop engines, could carry 23 tones and had a 132 foot wing spread. My momís cousin Thurber Hoyt told of hauling mainly barbed wire and toilet paper along with ammunition food and about every other item needed into isolated outposts in Vietnam. Another fellow pilot told of dropping, via parachute out the back, old WWII 5000 pound bombs into jungle that when exploded would clear an area large enough for Army helicopters to use to insert troops into a fight. When the 5000 pounders ran out then they would take a 1000 gallon propane tank, fill it with explosive and fuse it to drop by parachute and do the same task of clearing a helicopter landing zone. Innovative those Americans and a great airplane they are still making today.

A pair of C-130 crews trained long and hard for the special bridge-wiping-out mission. Permission came down from the Pentagon and the select crew flew in low level at night, surprising the anti-aircraft defenses, dropped their special weapons and made it back out to safety over the Gulf of Tonkin. It didnít work. No explosions under the bridge no damage at all. The next night the second C-130, the backup, was launched over the very same route. Well this time the North Vietnamese were not surprised as before and shot that big cargo carrier down to crash into the mountain just west of the intended bridge target. The Olds book listed the dead crewmembers of that second C-130 which included the name of Harold Zook copilot. A former friend of your columnist.

Hal Zook had shown up to fly the KC-97 in the same squadron I was assigned at Otis AFB on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He was only there about a year when the outfit closed and we crewmembers went our separate ways flying different aircraft. I didnít know Hal well. He was a bachelor and I had a wife and three small children but we did pull alert together and I visited with him then. Later on I knew that Hal was flying as copilot in the C-130 and that he had been killed in Vietnam. Still I had no idea that he had been a crewmember on that ill-fated mission to bomb the Paul Doumer Bridge in North Vietnam until I read it in Robin Olds book. Rest in peace friend Hal.

More to read and time to do it. We didnít know about the Red Willow County Health Department issuing DHM, Directed Health Measures, dictating the 6 foot rule and no gatherings over 10 people among other restrictions. Instead Grannie Annie and I have been abiding by our daughterís, who lives in Omaha, rules basically saying stay in the house. Our neighbors have been great to pick up things we need. The Coppermill dropped off burgers for lunch one day as have other Good Samaritan friends brought wonderful things to eat. We are doing okay thank you very much.

That is the way I saw it.

Dick Trail

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: