Dutch DeJong was a flight student at South Field, Whiting Field, Milton, Florida in 1961. Both of us were in Formation Training Unit Two in Training Squadron Three [VT-3]. Dutch was a flight student and I was a formation instructor in Unit Two and a basic instrument training instructor in Unit One. An instructor rarely remembered a flight student with whom he flew a couple of hops or chased on a solo a few times during a training syllabus that lasted little more than six weeks during a 24 month instructional tour flying 60 or more sorties per month with dozens of students. An instructor would usually only remember the very good and the very bad students. I remembered Dutch because he was an outstanding student pilot. He was a natural stick and rudder man. Dutch was a pleasure to fly with and to chase solo.
Six years later at DaNang South Vietnam I again saw Dutch DeJong. Don Dilley, the Death Angel Ops Officer, called me to his office and presented a trim, handsome, light haired young officer to me. "Mofak, this is Captain DeJong. I've assigned him to your flight. We'll schedule him to fly with you every day for the next week. Check him out and get him qualified to lead combat missions."
"DeJong?" I said as I shoved my hand at my new wingman. "I remember flying with you in formation training at VT-3 many years back. What do they call you beside Captain?"
"My friends call me Dutch." He said with a grin. "I remember you as Captain Marvel. I hear it's Major Mofak now."
Thus, my month of June 1967 in the Death Angels began as a week of combat flying with Dutch.
The following day Dutch showed up early for briefing on our afternoon Laotian Highway Patrol mission. The code name for those classified fragmentary orders was Tiger Hound or Steel Tiger. I was surprised to see Dutch draw such a dangerous mission on his first combat flight. We sat through the intelligence briefing and then spent 45 minutes on Rules of Engagement and tactical procedures for operating in Laos and Vietnam. We were to contact Covey, a Birddog, FAC passing Khe Sahn on Route 9. The troop concentration and truck park target was west of Lang Vei Special Forces Camp on the east side of the Tchepone River.
Dutch and I took the jeep down to the Death Angel hangar. 30 minutes before our scheduled launch time we signed for the aircraft, were met by our plane captains and led to our crusaders on the flight line. Hans took my helmet bag and navigation pack while Swift Caulkins escorted Dutch. Each F-8 was loaded with eight 500 lb general purpose banded Snake-eye bombs on wing station multiple bomb racks, eight Zuni rockets on the fuselage rails and 440 twenty millimeter cannon rounds. I was sure hoping we would not be wasting our superior load of ordnance on "Trees in the Open" as we called suspected enemy positions and truck parks. The fuses were checked along with the arming wires. Fifteen minutes before launch we started the J-57 engines and completed the before taxi checks. "Mofak two is up." Dutch checked in on tactical frequency. Switching to ground control frequency we were cleared to taxi for take off south with a right turn toward the DMZ.
The arming crew was led by Jon Kirkwood who was the world's fastest Marine with a speed wrench on opening and closing the gun bay doors. We kept our hands clearly visible to the arming crew. Our F-8s were quickly armed and ready for launch. The arming crew ran for the weeds and the shelter of their weapons carrier vehicle to escape the jet blast as we turned for runway heading. Jon Kirkwood and Charlie Rabon held their thumbs up high as they cleared the run-up area.
Upon contacting the tower we were cleared for takeoff. After taxiing into position on the right runway, I rotated my right index finger for run up to military rated thrust [full basic engine]. Dutch gave me a thumbs up indicating the aircraft engine gages and flight controls were ok and that my aircraft was configured for takeoff. I repeated the OK signal to him. Releasing the brakes I commenced the takeoff roll. By moving the throttle outward the afterburner engaged at combat rated thrust with a ten thousand pound slam to my back. The crusader accelerated rapidly down the runway. At 140 knots, I pulled back on the stick and rotated to takeoff attitude. The aircraft was quickly airborne and climbing so I tapped the brakes and raised the wheel handle. At 200 knots I lowered and locked the wing. Eight seconds after my start of takeoff roll, Dutch released his brakes. Upon reaching 275 knots, I popped the throttle out of afterburner and set 95 percent thrust for climb to give Dutch some slack for join up.
As Dutch slid into position on my right wing, I tapped the right side of my helmet and gave him four fingers down for the departure radio channel 9. We checked out with the Air Wing, "Condole, Wagecut one four airborne zero, zero on mission 25 with 16 Delta Twos, 16 Delta sevens and 800 Delta twenty. Two plus three zero fuel on board."
We leveled at thirteen thousand and soon were turning over Phu Bai TACAN channel 69 direct to Khe Sahn. Several flights of aircraft could be seen attacking targets west of Phu Bai along the base of the mountains that paralleled the coast line from the central highlands north to the China border. Approaching Khe Sahn, four Army Loach Scouts could be seen low level in trail zig-zagging up a stream bed in a canyon looking for NVA. Those were brave aviators flying only twenty feet or so above the water. I didn't want the job of being tail end Charlie in that gaggle.
Over the red dirt strip marking Khe Sahn we contacted Covey One Five. "Roger Mofak flight, this is Covey One Five orbiting Lang Vei at altitude base plus three. I'll head west on Route Nine and meet you over the target area."
During descent to 10,000 over Lang Vei we spotted the top of Covey's wings ahead at 6,000 feet or so. "Mofak has a Tally-Ho Covey One Five."
"Roger. Make a left hand pattern with your runs from west to east. Nearest friendlies are at Lang Vei. This area should be considered hot. Your target is trucks and troops in an area within one click east of the Tchepone River. Pickle in pairs and work around my initial mark. I'll call and adjust your hits." The O-One reached the river and turned left. "Rolling in on my marking run. You are cleared in hot when you spot my smoke."
"Mofak One is in hot." I toggled the Master Arm switch on as I rolled in.
"Roger, Lead. Hit fifty meters six o'clock on my smoke."
"Mofak Two is in hot." Dutch was rolling in on his first run.
"Good hit lead. Dash Two, hit fifty meters left of Dash One." Smoke and debris rose from the impact of my two 500 lb bombs.
Dutch hit the intended impact point. We continued to throw bombs into the trees for two more runs each. The jungle canopy was 300 feet high. The bombs left a huge smoking brown circle marking the area of impact. Two large explosions marked Dutch's next hits. I was again approaching roll in on the fourth bomb run as Dutch made a climbing left turn after release. "This is Dash Two, Mofak flight is taking fire from the west side of the river!"
I had not seen the fire, neither had Covey FAC. "Mofak is rolling in hot on final bomb run."
"Roger Lead, move your hits 100 meters at six." Covey adjusted closer to the river. "And Lead, you are taking triple A from the west side of the river."
It seemed kind of stupid to keep hitting trees in the open with no resultant secondary explosions while taking heavy fire in the process. I pickled the two bombs off and pulled around in my climb to watch the tracers streaking toward Dutch in his run. There were no air bursts. "Stay above four thousand Mofak Two." No need to get into the NVA accurate fire range.
Dutch dropped his last two bombs in the target area. Still no secondaries. "Covey, let's move our impact point across to the river's west bank where it runs north and south. We know there are gooners there. We can put our rockets and twenty mike mike on the triple A."
Covey was quick to respond. "Mofak flight is cleared in hot on the gun positions. Call in hot and off target. Make the runs north to south and a left hand pattern."
I was heading straight down the river at 8000 feet so flipped the gun selector to "Upper" and called, "Mofak One in with guns." I rolled inverted, pulled the nose down along the river bank until 300 meters short of the gun positions, rolled back right side up and commenced tracking the 10 mil line along the base of the trees 20 meters right of the river. I fired from 6000 to 4000 feet for 400 meters along the tree line.
Dutch called in hot as I pulled the crusader hard around to the right to avoid the NVA guns. AAA was visible during Dutch's run. Soon we had NVA ammunition fires burning along the tree line. Two small secondary explosions rewarded our switching targets from trees in the open to known enemy positions. We expended the Zunis into the AAA positions and saved the two lower guns for emergencies. Covey gave us his BDA and we spiraled upward as the O-One [L-19] made a slow trip along Route Nine to Lang Vei. Then we departed for DaNang.
Dutch had impressed me with his first combat flight. Not only had he dropped his bombs and fired his guns and rockets accurately, he had flown the patterns perfectly and best of all, he had spotted and reported the enemy fire before either of the old salts knew they were being fired upon. Plus, we had some credible reportable BDA instead of "Trees in the Open."
The next day was another exciting outing. The targets were in the DMZ north of Con Thien and Gio Linh. We had NVA troops in the open and provided plenty of close air support for our Marines. A birddog FAC worked us from unit to unit and target after target until we were Winchester [out of ammunition]. We took enemy fire on all of the targets while the final BDA was over 50 total enemy KBA. A day to remember.
On the third day Dutch and I were put on transportation vehicles near the Laotian border west of Phu Bai. We hit NVA troops using elephants on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Dutch and I strafed the supply vehicles at a ferry point on a river. The elephants were stampeded with some neutralized in the attack.
Shortly thereafter, further down the river, we found another supply trail being forded. The NVA were using water buffalo for transport of supplies. The river crossing was busy on the particular morning we happened unexpectedly upon them. Some vehicles did not survive.
The fourth day with Dutch was not as exciting as the first Three days but we had fun. Targets were on south facing cliffs near the beach on the South China Sea just north of Cam Pho in the DMZ. We bombed into the face of the cliff at what the FAC said were AAA sites. The airborne FAC did not mark the targets but simply directed the air strike based on his knowledge of the enemy positions that had been firing on aircraft operating in the DMZ. An inlet with a 500 meter body of water was under our run in just south of the targets. We took fire throughout the runs but no 37/57 was observed. We dropped sixteen 500 lb bombs into the cliffs and strafed to keep the NVA heads down during each run. We blasted a few boats from the water.
Friday we attacked a section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. The road segment was hit by dozens of bombs every day but graders and crews were out every night repairing the road or detouring around the craters created the day before. At night special units like the Air Force Night Owls harassed the repair crews and hit moving trucks. All levels of anti aircraft fire were found along the trail at key merge points. 37MM and 57MM were the most common AAA encountered by American aircraft along the Trail. Dutch and I put our ordnance on the road and took AAA during our runs.
"Dash Two Rolling in Hot. Lead, You're taking Fire!"
The fifth day was again a two pointer mission towards an Air Medal for Dutch. Twenty points were required for an Air Medal. Dutch had flown five combat missions in five days and already was halfway to his first Air Medal with ten points. A mission with no fire observed or no holes found in either aircraft on post flight inspection only counted as one point. Many times we certainly took fire but were not aware of it. Many aircraft were struck by small arms fire just off the approach end of the runway within one thousand meters [one click] of the field boundary. Most of those hits occurred at night.
Here is a shot of DaNang landing to the south from DaNang Bay. DaNang City would be off the left wing while Red Beach would be on the right on final approach.
Dutch went on to successfully complete his combat tour and retired many years later from the Marine Corps. I have remembered with excitement the five successive days I flew with Dutch DeJong in Vietnam. We were bullet proof Crusader pilots living out the wildest dreams of our youth.
Thanks Dutch for being a spirited Warrior.
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.