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.

Early during the war in Laos, Butterfly FACs were used almost exclusively. They became known as Butterfly FACs because they used the call sign “Butterfly.” (There are also a few “bar girl” stories about where the call sign came from, but I could confirm none.) They used a few other call signs too, but “Butterfly” became synonymous for the non-rated FACs in the region.

Butterflies flew in almost anything they could fly in to spot targets and direct air strikes to those targets… mostly Air America Pilatus Porters. (I gave the “Porters” the nickname “Schnozz” because of the long nose of their turboprop engines.) They also flew in U-10s, L-20s (U-6 Beaver) or anything else they could get a ride in… even H-34 helicopters.

A popular misconception about Butterfly FACs is that they were all enlisted (non-officers). The FACT is that while most were enlisted, there were also several officers. However, these officers were not pilots. The most often mentioned of these were Capt. Farmer and Capt “Jack” Teague. Capt. Teague was the first modern-era CCT to fly as a FAC with the call sign, “Cherokee.”

Another misconception is that the Butterfly FACs weren’t trained to direct aircraft strikes. WRONG! The FACT is, the Butterfly FACs were “Combat Controller Technicians”… or CCTs. Directing aircraft attacks is part of their training in CCT school from day 1. (Note that like the Navy’s SEALs, CCT officers and enlisted attend the same school.) Indeed, it’s a FACT the CCTs received more specific training than the “fighter pilot FACs.” The CCTs even went through SCUBA, “jump school” (Army static line and free-fall), air traffic school, and combat control schools. Most CCTs continued to make “jumps” throughout the war.

Now about those 25 missions a month a “real FAC” flew. The FACT is, Butterfly FACs flew that many and more a week… A WEEK!!! They would get up in the morning and take off at first light. When they ran out of fuel, smoke grenades or rockets*, they would land at a Lima Site, get more gas, smoke markers and take off again. Rinse-repeat till the sun went down. They did this 7 days a week… no days off… no 4-day trips to Bangkok.

(* Pilatus Porters did not carry white phosphorus (WP) rockets for marking targets. Since the ‘Porters also flew humanitarian missions, they didn’t want anyone shooting at them when they were delivering chickens and rice. If the Butterflies were flying in ‘Porters, they would either “talk” fighters to the target or use WP grenades to mark targets.)

Air America “Porter”. The Porters could carry up to 10 passengers or over 2000 pounds of cargo. This aircraft (N359F) was abandoned in Saigon on 29 Apr 75. (Photo by Ken Marshall)

The most well known among Butterfly FACs, MSGT Charley Jones, flew 413 FAC combat missions in Laos. The FACT is that if they lived long enough, none of the Butterfly FACS flew less than 200 combat missions in 6 months of flying.

The last FACTs are missions with a Butterfly FACs were 63% more effective and were shot down a whopping 93% less than missions when a single pilot did his own FACing. That makes perfect sense; the pilot with a Butterfly FAC could concentrate 100% on flying and dodging whatever the NVA was shooting at them. The Butterfly FAC could focus on searching for targets and directing the airstrikes. The Butterfly FAC was also a second set of eyes to look out for AAA shooting at them.

Project Lucky Tiger started at NKP on 8 Mar 66. Three CCTs deployed as part of the advanced team; 2Lt Bob McCullough, SSgt Jim Stanford, and A2C Andre Guillet. Det 3, 505 TACG, later to become the 23rd TASS, was also newly operating out of NKP FACing airstrikes on the HCMT. Det 3 requested support from the CCTs as part of their mission. “Higher Headquarters” approved the request. All three CCTs at NKP began flying combat missions with the 23rd TASS as soon as they arrived.

The three CCT Buterfly FACs at NKP are the guys with the berets.  L to R: SSgt Jim Stanford, 2Lt. Bob McCullough, A2C Andre Guillet. This pic was taken soon after A2C Guillet made a “jump” into a Thai village to advance public relations. (USAF Photo)

After Guillet was shot down, the 23rd TASS suspended missions with CCTs. Shortly after that, Lt. McCollough and SSgt Stafford went to Laos. Stafford began flying Butterfly FAC missions from LS20A (Alternate, Long Tieng) and flew over 200 combat missions.

Use of Butterfly FACs ended in early 1967… soon after the 56th Air Commando Wing set up at Nakhon Phanom (AKA NKP, AKA Naked Fanny). Colonel (later BG) Aderholt became the wing commander. Col. Aderholt, recognizing the value of Butterfly FACs, requested more CCTs to be assigned to NKP. The timing is unclear, but in early 1967, Col. Aderholt held a now-famous meeting with Spike.

(Spike was Lt. Gen William Momyer, Commander 7th Air Force at the time. His nickname was Spike. I suppose I should give him the respect and call him “General”… he was an Ace from WWII. But his concept of how to best use airpower in the Second Indochina War was wrong. But, this is a story for another time.)

It was at this meeting when Spike discovered Butterfly FACs were not rated fighter pilots. One story accounts that when Col Aderholt praised the efforts of the enlisted “Butterflies,” Spike’s face turned red with rage. Various descriptions say that upon this discovery, Spike threw a hissy fit, or massive tirade… that enlisted men were never to direct his fighter pilots at anything.

The best quote of the incident came in 1997 from Col. (BG) Aderholt himself. He said Spike threw, “One of the more impressive temper tantrums of the war.”

(This story of the Col. Aderholt & General Momyer meeting has been told and written about many times with several “flavorings.” There is no question the essence of what I have written is absolutely true.)

Shortly after Spike threw his fit, the Butterfly FAC program ended. After all… he was a “3 star” (later promoted to 4 stars.)

[I suggest to you that Spike’s rigid adherence to outdated policy and outdated doctrine cost US lives in Laos. While Spike may have understood the use of tactical airpower in a conventional war, he would not accept that his concepts wouldn’t work for interdiction in a non-conventional war. Furthermore, he would not listen to the ideas of his subordinate commanders. All he wanted working below him were “yes men.” He had a bad case of NIH… Not Invented Here. I also suggest Spike Momyer is one of the reasons there is no North Vietnam today… only Vietnam.]

In Northern Laos, Butterfly FACs gave way to the “Ravens” in early 1967. The Ravens were rated officer pilots who had flown as FACs in South Vietnam. After they completed about six months in South Vietnam to gain experience as FACs, Air Force pilots could volunteer for the Steve Canyon program… to become Ravens.

In a short period, the Ravens replaced all the Butterfly FACs. In clear homage to the Butterfly FACs who had gone before them, they gave MSgt Charlie Jones the name, “Raven One.” No other Raven ever used that call sign.

Here is Raven One, MSgt Charlie Jones, talking with the Hmong leader General Vang Pao (VP). (US Government Photo)

From mid-August 1964, the Butterfly FACs proved themselves in every way possible. The Butterflies continued in the Barrel Roll area of Laos until 1967. The last to fly as a Butterfly FAC was SSgt Don Carlyle who completed his 211 combat missions in March 1967.

CCTs at NKP, May 66. With the exception of Lt. McCullough, these guys arrived with the main group of Project Lucky Tiger. Five of the nine flew as Butterfly FACs: Kosh, Howard, Carlile, Webb, and McCullough.
Back row L to R: A1c Ron Kosh, SSgt Clyde Howard, SSgt John Johnson, SSgt Don Carlyle, A1C/SSgt Jack Webb, ??? Less Hall. Front row L to R: ??? Howard Harris, Tsgt Danny Pike, 1Lt Bob McCullough.  (USAF Photo)
Don Carlyle (Left) and Ron Kosh at LS20A with Hmong soldier. (US Photo)

The Air Commandos have always recognized the value of CCTs… perhaps now more than ever. The only member of the USAF awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor since the Second Indochina War was TSgt. John Chapman… a CCT.

Air Force Chief of Staff General Dave Goldfein said of Chapman in a statement:

 “Technical Sergeant John Chapman fought tenaciously for his nation and his teammates on that hill in Afghanistan. His inspiring story is one of selfless service, courage, perseverance, and honor as he fought side by side with his fellow soldiers and sailors against a determined and dug-in enemy. Tech. Sgt. Chapman represents all that is good, all that is right, and all that is best in our American airmen.” 

As a direct result of TSgt Chapman’s actions, members of his group are alive today… at the cost of his own life. The CMH was presented to his widow.

Congressional Medal of Honor – TSgt John Chapman – CCT
(USAF Photo)

Now to the FACTs for A2C Andre Guillet.:

  • FACT – he was not along for a “joy ride” the day he was shot down. He was on a regular combat mission as a Butterfly FAC.
  • FACT – A2C Guillet had been flying combat missions for about two months before he was shot down.
  • FACT – another Butterfly FAC, SSgt Stanford was scheduled to fly with Capt Harley on 18 May 66, but Guillet volunteered to take the mission.
  • FACT – this was not the first time Guillet had FAC’ed along with Capt. Harley. Guillet volunteered for the specific mission because he “liked flying with Capt Harley, and they worked well together.”
  • FACT: A2C Guillet he did things “real FACs” never did; in his time at NKP, he made “jumps” giving training to indigenous personnel.

I’m sure some people will accuse me of trying to rewrite history. I say to them, I’m not rewriting… I’m setting history straight. I don’t know how many total combat missions A2C Guillet made. For that matter, I don’t know how many missions Capt. Harley flew. What I do know is they were both flying on the same mission, and both died doing their jobs over the Ho Chi Minh Trail… and A2C Guillet was doing it for a fraction of the base pay Capt. Harley was getting.

… and I know that meadow near the Ban Karai pass should be known as the Guillet-Harley Valley.

I usually don’t provide references because I’m not trying to make any of this a scholarly work. But in case you want to check the FACTs for yourself, click here for a partial bibliography.

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