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.
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 →
I became intimately familiar with SARs only ten days after I arrived at NKP. Although I didn’t directly work this SAR, it affected everyone at NKP. On Christmas Day, 1968, PJ A1C Charles King volunteered for the SAR mission to rescue a downed F-105 pilot. King was lowered to the ground to rescue the pilot, Major Charles Brownlee. It all went wrong. A1C King and Maj. Brownlee were ever seen again.
Over the next year, the SAR forces at NKP made many rescues. By rough count, there were over 100 SARs during my year… a little over half of them were successful. Unfortunately, during SARs we also lost four Sandy A-1s (602nd SOS), an HH-53 Jolly Green Giant (40th ARRS), an O-2 (23rd TASS) and an OV-10 (23rd TASS.) Of those SAR aircraft losses, there were three KIA.
My last SAR started on 5 Dec 68… just days before I got on the “Freedom Bird.” An F-4C out of Cam Ranh Bay, call sign Boxer-22*, was shot down in the Phanop Valley. Both the pilot, Capt. Ben Danielson (Boxer-22A) and the GIB**, 1Lt. Woody Bergeron (Boxer-22B), successfully ejected. Radio contact was made with both crew members. They were separated by the 50 foot wide Nam Ngo river, and both were in “good condition.”
The more I learn about the Mu Gia Pass… and the more I look at images of the area, I can’t figure out why the US couldn’t shut it down. I guess that’s part of why I want to go there… to see for myself.
Before Nov 68, the Laotian side of the Mu Gia pass, indeed all the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos, was secondary to the US bombing in North Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh trail in general and Mu Gia Pass area in Laos received comparatively few dedicated missions. Many attacks in Laos were made on return trips with munitions not used up in North Vietnam.
This makes sense. It was far easier to hit targets in the relatively flat areas in North Vietnam before getting to the pass than it was to hit them after they entered Laos. It would have been even easier to hit the truck depots in the Haiphong harbor and other mass staging areas, but that’s a story for another discussion.
This recon photo and “intel” analysis (above) shows the amount of truck traffic to the Mu Gia pass typical during the dry season in 1967. In the pic there are seven trucks going through a bombed out area. This is likely a section of “The Trail” inside North Vietnam. The “intel” analysis also suggests Continue reading →