Places to go – The Chokes

Our ride from the Ban Loboy Ford will go back down Route 912 to the junction with Route 911. This is where the two routes join with Route 91 leading to Tchepone (Xepon). The area of the junction was an obvious chokepoint for almost everything that made it through the Mu Gia and Ban Karai pass areas.

Although there were many natural “choke points” on the HCMT, this is the area pilots always called, “The Chokes.” It was “chokes”… plural… because there were several chokepoints in the area. Right at the R911 – R912 junction, there were three of the “chokes;” “Alpha,” “Bravo,” and “Charlie;” each one to designate a specific area near the junction.

Map of the main routes from the Mu Gia and Ban Karai passes going to Tchepone (Xepon)

Click on any of the pics in this post for a larger view. (They will open in another tab.)

The map above shows “The Chokes”. These were the key Continue reading

Places to go – Ban Karai Pass

Our Trail ride takes us south from the Mu Gia Pass area to the other major pass  into Laos from North Vietnam; the Ban Karai Pass. This pass was nearly as important to Hanoi as the Mu Gia Pass… and nearly as deadly to the US.

Riding the HCMT to the Ban Karai pass will only take us part of a day. This doesn’t mean there is only one “Trail” to get there. There were hundreds… maybe thousands of alternates and bypasses. If we were to try riding all those, it would take years. Even Don Duval, who has been doing this for years, is still finding new trails. He even found a new one with the classic HCMT cobble roadbed in the last couple of weeks.

This is a 1973 map showing the mountains and the trail. Examine the map closely and you will see many of the alternates and bypasses. (In the top left there are at least 8 alternates for Route 23)

We will take mostly the main routes. Take a look at the map. Continue reading

Sidebar 6 – FACs, FACTS & Butterflies

As I contemplated writing this sidebar, I debated (to myself) if I even wanted to post it. The problem was how to write it without maybe offending some folks. In the end, it was simple… just present the FACTs.

On 18 May 66, an O-1 Forward Air Controller (FAC) aircraft piloted by Capt. Lee D. Harley took off from NKP. A2C Andre Guillet was in the back seat performing duties as a Butterfly FAC. Their job was to work the HCMT in the Ban Karai pass area. They were shot down and went MIA in a meadow near the pass. Neither Harley nor Guillet have ever been found. The meadow where they went down became known as, “Harley’s Valley.”

When I wrote “More Memories of Naked Fanny,” I investigated and found out the facts about the shoot-down… at least as well as the facts are known. Since that time I’ve been trying to get people to change the name of Harley’s Valley, to “Guillet-Harley Valley.” I probably won’t ever succeed but, that won’t stop me from continuing the quest.

The Amphitheatre at NKP as it should have been.

OK, I can’t rewrite history… but I can set the record straight. A2C Guillet (Promoted to SMSgt while MIA) deserves as much recognition and memory as does Lee Harley.

One time I when posted that thought on social media, I received a semi-indignant reply from former FAC pilot. It went something to the effect, “If Guillet flew 25 missions a month like the FAC pilots, then maybe he would have received the recognition and memory.” It was as if… since he was not a pilot, he was therefore not a “real” FAC. It was intimated that A2C Guillet was just along for a joy ride and only fighter pilots could be real FACs.

Well… here are the FACTs. Continue reading

Down the Rabbit Hole V2.0

It happened again. I went down the internet rabbit hole. Well… not just again… it happens all the time. But usually, I can focus and bring myself back to doing what I started to do in the first place. But not today… this time I spent hours down there.

I was searching to verify a couple of my facts about the Ban Karai Pass. I always try to get at least two sources… preferably three… before I pass on something as fact. So this morning I was just warming up. I put in the search words, “Ban Karai Pass.”

Up popped a pic of a B-52. Sometimes I’ll click on a pic to get to the story that goes with it. This time the pic was just the entrance to the Rabbit Hole.

I discovered the “pic” was really digital artwork by a man named, Peter Chilelli. And when I clicked into it, the link took me to Continue reading

Places to go – Mu Gia Pass Part 3

There is lots to see and do around the Mu Gia Pass. If you’ve been following along in parts 1 & 2, you know just how much effort the US put into trying to interdict this area. Part 3 is the final installment for the Mu Gia Pass. I hope this has given you a glimpse of what went on. I’ll finish talking about those efforts, and then I (and Don Duvall) will go over the places to go and things to do.

In the sixteen months from Nov 68 through Mar 70, there were 30 more aircraft shot downs near Mu Gia; 22 KIA and 2 POW. There were also Continue reading