The town of Xepon appears in more after-action reports, CHECO, and Corona Harvest documentation about the war than any other place on the HCMT. So much went on at Xepon I’m dividing this into two or three parts. I’ll post the other parts in the next few days.
I discovered this song, Tchepone, on YouTube. The lyrics tell a lot about flying near Xepon and perhaps are a microcosm of the entire air war over the Ho CHi Minh Trail. Click on it and let it play as you continue on. (Click Here to read the LYRICS)
Knife 61 and Knife 62 were shot down during Operation Junction City, Junior. (Don’t confuse this with the US Army 1967 “Operation Junction City.” The ’67 operation was named after the Kansas town, “Junction City.” Google it, and you’ll find lots of info.)
Perhaps the name for this operation (Junction City, Jr.) was well chosen because the goal was capturing the city at the junction of Ho Chi Minh Trail (HCMT) Routes 9 & 23. Route 9 came into Xepon from the east, and Route 23 was a main artery to the southern portion of the HCMT. The town was Muang Phin (also spelled Phine amongst others.)
Road Watch Teams (Operation Shining Brass/Prairie Fire) had unconfirmed reports of American prisoners Continue reading →
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.
Click on any of the pics in this post for a larger view. (They will open in another tab.)
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.
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.
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.