As has been said before, men who worked Long Tieng aka LS 20A… and throughout the CIA’s Lao program – were a special breed. The Ravens, who flew mission after mission after mission north of Skyline, trying to draw fire so as to better direct the jet bombers on good targets. Crazy. Air America flying those un-armored helicopters delivering food and bullets and replacements, taking out wounded and dead on the shifting battlefield. Extra-ordinary courage with those pilots and flight mechs was average and expected. The Hmong T-28 pilots were among the best in all SEA. They were fearless…flying under clouds in dead-end valleys that the enemy controlled. Thai volunteers, who always were pitted it seemed against vastly superior number of North Vietnamese fanatics. And the CIA case officers were smart combat veterans, who like the rest who worked the Long Tieng valley were risk takers.
At night, in the makeshift bar next to the shell-racked CIA hqs bunker in the Long Tieng valley, there was mighty interesting and flavorful conversation among these men.
For example, here’s a day’s work that you’ll not find in history books:
When Hardnose left Long Tieng as Chief Thai case officer… Lumberjack took that job and helped lead the return of the Thai volunteers to the PDJ from Skyline Ridge… this after the PAVN General’s An task force had been beat back from Long Tieng.
The PAVN reaction to this move was swift and furious. They kicked the Thais off the PDJ again in one massive frontal assault. And the Thais that could get away, broke down into small groups, some making their way to the abandoned Lima Site 50, SW of the PDJ.
Enemy was closing in and an operation was mounted to get the Thais out. Lumberjack ordered up the entire inventory of Air America Chinooks (CH-47s); Frenchy Smith was the senior pilot.
Lumberjack briefed the pilots that the PAVN were close and the Thais – in a riot frame of mind – were scared. He had contact with some of them on the ground at LS 50, but really had no idea what this relief column of helicopters would run into. He said he would go in first in a small helicopter to assess the situation. He promised that if anyone got shot down following him in, that he would personally get them out.
Lumberjack, who’s actually small but always with a Paul Bunyan smile, said he wasn’t forcing anyone to do anything they didn’t want to. There were enemy everywhere out there… and the Thais they were trying to save, were armed – plus they had grenades and rocket launchers – and probably were desperate.
Crazy, dangerous, unpredictable situation.But after talking among themselves, all the Chinook pilots signed on… in addition to Frenchy, there was
The famous Frenchy Smith stand beside a Bell Helicopter
Hutchinson, Hitchman and Tony Byrne. Lumberjack would be flying a Command and Control Bell helicopter with Herb Baker as the pilot.
Like he promised, Lumberjack went in first with the Bell and as soon as the skids hit the ground in the middle of LS 50, they were mobbed by Thai soldiers, anxious to escape. Herb picked up the Bell and used the skids to plow the terrified Thais to the edge of the LZ. He tried to set down again and again was mobbed and had to plow the Thais away again.
The third time they did not mob the Bell and Lumberjack got out of the chopper to organize things on the ground. He put the worst wounded on-board the Huey and stayed on the LZ until it departed.
Frenchy, the chief pilot, then sent in the first Chinook which was piloted by Hutchinson. As soon as it touched down the Thais mobbed it. There was no getting them off. They were packed like sardines. Hutch fast taxied to the edge of the hilltop, lurched off the end, to fall a frightenly long way down the side of the mountain before gaining lift.
When the overloaded helicopter got to Long Tieng, there were 120 Thais on board. Maximum payload for a Chinook in the mountains was somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 lbs. Do the math. 120 Thai volunteers times average weight with gear and weapons of 150 lbs = 18,000 lbs. Twice the load limit.
There were still Thais to evacuate and the enemy surrounding the Site 50e seemed to be closer. Tony Byrne was next. A man’s man, he had a very effeminate way of speaking, but he had balls. While orbiting around Site 50 waiting to pick up his load he started to take significant ground fire. In the midst of all the confusion, he came on the radio and in his high lilting voice said, “OH, LUMBERJACK, LUMBERJACK -rat-ta tat tat – they are shooting at me!”
And in the telling back in that bar in Long Tieng that night, everyone would laugh and open another beer. Then off somewhere someone with a high voice would say, "Oh LUMBERJACK, LUMBERJACK...RA TA TAT TAT."