What The Well Dressed Person Wears… on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

A few days back I was asked a question about what to take on the HCMTrail ride. In particular, the essence of the questions were, “What riding gear do we need” and “What should we take on the trail. At first, I was going to give a short answer. But as I was writing the email, I realized that if one person was asking, anyone interested would probably want to know. Besides, there is no short answer.

When you look at a lot of the videos of riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail Don Duval has posted, you will see the riders dressed from head to toe with every piece of riding gear you can imagine. But I always think it amusing when in the video you see a family of five going the other way on a scooter wearing little more than shorts and flip flops.

A “screen grab” from one of Don’s videos. A little fuzzy, but you get the idea.
A family getting their scooter back home from a day of shopping. At least they have helmets on but notice the flip-flops. (Photo courtesy of Don Duval AKA The Midnight Mapper.)


So yes… if you really wanted to, you could ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail in shorts and flip-flops. But I don’t think it would be a very good idea.

A few years ago I rode all over Thailand wearing a helmet, combat boots, over-pants (I’ll explain over-pants in a minute), a jacket, and gloves. I consider this to be the minimum. As I go through the stuff, I’ll show you a recommendation or two. I’ll also include some of the recommendations Don Duval has made.

Me, on my way from Chiang Mai to Nakhon Phanom.

On the trip from Chiang Mai to Nakhon Phanom (NKP) I went via the towns of Phitsanulok, Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani (Udorn)… about 1000km. The pic shows the gear I wore all the way… “combat boots,” over-pants and the blue vinyl jacket hanging from the handlebars. The helmet is hanging on the handlebr underneath the jacket. The bike is a Honda CRF-250L. More gear is in the red bag, but I wasn’t wearing the extra stuff for the easy (tarmac) parts of the ride.

I should mention that I’m one of those that wears every possible piece of gear you can imagine. I often ride motocross tracks. I rarely race these days, but just the same, I prepare for the worst. I’ll tell you about my gear as I go along, but for now, I think this video will tell you the story best. I made the video because I was testing out a new GoPro mount. I was also wearing the new helmet and riding pants I intended to take on the HCMTrail Ride. (I didn’t think my Red-White-and-Blue themed gear would go over well riding in Laos. Here… watch the video.

Just a little test ride.

Throughout the rest of this post, I’ll be putting in little pics of the stuff I’m talking about. Each pic is a link to Amazon so you can check out the items. All the links open up in a new tab. (Since commissions are earned with these links, please check the “#WeaselWords” at the bottom of this page.)

This first item if for the GoPro “chin” mount… not the helmet.

Must Have Gear:

Before I go on I need to tell you that I go off-road riding two or maybe three times a month. That was the first “crash-n-burn” I’ve had in over six years. In the last two years, I haven’t even had a little “boo-boo” get-off. So all of this stuff is not likely to be “used,” but it’s needed just in case. Our trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail won’t have a lot of risks. Still… shorts & flip-flops just aren’t a good idea.

Helmet – I don’t need to say much here. You need your own properly fitting helmet. Some old, worn a million times brain-bucket isn’t good enough for my head. This doesn’t have to be expensive. Don Duval recommends a “dual-sport full face” helmet… not the kind you wear with goggles. He says the dual-sport give you better peripheral vision to look out for ” that dog, Cow, Goat, or Water buffalo approaching from the limit of your peripheral vision!”

Like most gear, you can spend a zillion dollars, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. The dual-sport helmet below on the left is one Don recommended. It is like the one he wears, is a DOT approved helmet, and is only about $60. The other one is the one I wear and bought to take instead of my Red-White-and-Blue helmet. As to its cost, to mimic the words of the great Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) in the movie, Major League… it costs juuuuussst a bit more.

(A reader told me that I should mention that if you are looking at this on some devices (like a cell phone), the items are not shown side-by-side. Instead, the “left” one is the first one shown, and the “right” one is the second one.)

Boots – As minimum, military combat-type boots. Today these are called “tactical boots.” The Bates boots shown below are the ones I wore all over Thailand. These are great because they are almost as light as sneakers. I still wear them all the time for riding my street bike (Honda) or for just out in the woods. The problem with these specific boots is with any water crossings… even little streams, your feet will get wet. Even though we are going in the dry season, a little rain in the morning could have you soggy all day. Bates does offer waterproof boots, but they cost juuuuussst a bit more.

Proper off-road boots will do a better job of keeping you dry. They’re also like armor for your feet and lower shin. Unfortunately, they aren’t much good for anything but dirt bike riding. Like all the gear, you can spend a small fortune if you are independently wealthy. As for me, the boots shown below are what I ride with.

I should mention, I’ll be wearing my combat boots as I travel to Laos. That will be my back-up if something happens to the motocross boots along the way. The Bates “Tactical Boots” on the left and my motocross boots on the right.

Gloves – These are essential. Don’t try and go with some $3 cheapie you can get from Harbor Freight. Good ones aren’t expensive and working up a blister your first day out won’t be fun. You can get proper off-road gloves for about twenty bucks. For years I have worn both Oneal brand gloves (left – about seventeen-bucks) and my current Fox gloves (right – about twenty-eight bucks).

That does it for the absolutely, positively must-have stuff. There’s more that’s highly recommended, but first, I want to talk about pants.


Obviously cargo shorts won’t do. Getting a bad case of road rash would ruin your day. Once again, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, or you can indenture your firstborn for riding pants. At the bottom end, you could go with just jeans. When I was poor, I did a lot of desert riding just wearing denim jeans. They will prevent a lot of road rash and keep dirt from getting ground into bare skin. But they are the least effective. I’m going to let you be the judge, but I’ll suggest something more effective.

“Over-pants” may be the most cost-effective. When I rode through Thailand, I just pulled these on over my Wrangler jeans. At the end of the day, I just pulled off the over-pants and was ready for a night on the town. Ok… the jeans were probably juuuuussst a bit stinky, but at least I could check-in someplace to wash up. Besides… these days stinky jeans might help with that “social-distancing” thing. Of course, you could wear cargo-pants or some such underneath but then you wouldn’t be as protected as well to road-rash.

Proper off-road pants, in my case motocross pants, are the best way to go. They will give you the most protection to road-rash. They will also be cooler than the other options… even jeans… because the ones I’m suggesting have venting to let in a little bit of air. They will also be the most comfortable because they have flex & expansion panels in all the right places. The ones I’m showing also have a little bit of padding in the hips and knees. (I’ll say a bit more about padding when I get down to “Overkill”.) While not waterproof because of the venting, they will keep a lot of water away. Since it’s a vinyl/polyester fabric, splashed water runs right off.

The over-pants I wore through Thailand are no longer available. Although the ones I’m showing here (on the left) are similar, I can’t personally vouch for them. They are about $40. The motocross pants (on the right) are the ones I bought and will be wearing on the HCMTrail Ride. They cost about $70.

Highly Recommended Stuff

Most trail-riding “get-offs” are not like the massive tumbling down the highway, getting smoothed out by a car sort of crashes you get riding down the interstate. Don’t get me wrong… some off-road crash-h-burns can hurt a lot. I was hurtin’ after the one in the video I showed you at the top. But most trail-ride get-offs are more the boo-boos and rash type. Helmet, boots, pants and gloves take care of a lot of that. But there’s more stuff that will lessen your aches and pains if you get some boo-boos.

Arms, Elbows & Knees

I suppose you could call an old sweatshirt arm protection if you are brave. In fact, I used to wear little more than that when I was on a motocross track. But now-days I want more. As a minimum, a modern motocross type long sleeve shirt should be worn. These shirts are vented and moisture-wicking to help keep you cool. They also have a little padding on the elbows. The one shown here is what I sometimes wear on a motocross track now-days if I’m not wearing more. (I wear a “chest-protector”/”roost-guard” / “flack-jacket underneath when I’m just wearing the shirt but I won’t go into that here. I also have a red-white-&-blue shirt not appropriate for this trip.)

Don Duval (and I) recommend you wear knee and elbow guards of some kind as a minimum. These are inexpensive and will save you a lot of grief even if you have just a little tip-over. That little bit of padding those motocross jerseys have won’t protect you nearly as much as some plastic “armor.” The set below will do the job, and are only about twenty bucks. But… before you order up any of these for the HCMTrail Ride, Don has some of this stuff you may be able to borrow from him. So check first.

Body Armor

One option to go with instead of some kind of long sleeve shirt and elbow armor (you still need something for knees) is to go with “Body Armor.” Both Don and I will be riding with this. Besides armor for your elbows, this provides you with a lot more… chest, shoulder, and back.

Remember I mentioned I wear “flack-jacket” worn under my motocross jersey just a minute ago? On a motocross track, the bike in front of you can spray you with little pebbles and rocks from his back tire. Except those pebbles and rocks are coming at you like “flack.” Sometimes the competition in front of you “roosts” you on purpose. The chest protection Body Arnor has does the same thing as a “flack jacket.” Of course I would never roost you on purpose… unless you roosted me going through a water crossing.

One other advantage of body armor is that you can wear a t-shirt underneath. The “jacket” part is made of a mesh and is far cooler than anything else.

I was wearing body armor in the crash-n-burn in the video at the beginning. Believe it or not, I didn’t have a scratch on my elbows, shoulders, or back. When you see me, I’ll show you all the scratches my body armor has from that. Is it a bit of “over-kill” for most trail riding? Yeah… probably so… especially for the HCMTrail Ride. We’ll be taking it easy. Just the same… I won’t leave home without it.

The body armor shown on the left below will do the job and then some. It’s only about sixty bucks. The one on the right is what I will be wearing on the HCMTrail Ride.


This is all the stuff I took when I went a few years ago. I was riding by myself and it was to be 3 weeks in Thailand and 3 weeks in Laos. I took everything I thought I could possibly need… tools, water-purification stuff, a hammock, sleeping bag, mosquito net, and even MREs. I think the partridge-in-a-pear-tree is there somewhere. It turned out that I only made the Thailand part of the trip. Notice the Red-White-and-Blue pants that won’t be going this time.

There are a few more things that I wear any time I get on a dirt-bike. Most of this stems from my racing days and is far more than you will need for the HCMTrail Ride. When you are racing, you are always riding at your limits… sometimes over your limits. For the HCMTrail Ride, we are just going along at a pace for “sight-seeing.” Just the same, I’ve worn this stuff for so long, I feel naked without it. So, if you don’t mind spending some of your kid’s inheritance, here’s some more stuff.

“Base-Layer” – This is what you wear under all of the other stuff. There are a variety of different types and price points. The main idea of these are to provide some extra padding to protect you from boo-boos. I always wear shorts like these. They’re kinda like regular outerwear shorts, but with padding. After a day’s ride, I’ll wander around the house with these on until I take a shower… even if my daughters are around. And they don’t even say ewwwwwww. If you are going to ride with only jeans, this becomes sort of a recommended item. The one shown on the left is a low-cost version… about twenty-five bucks. What I wear is on the right… about sixty-five bucks.

Kidney Belt – I’m only going to show one here… the one I wear… because it really is in the beyond overkill category. My Body Armor (and the other one I showed) has a built-in kidney belt and I still wear a second one. Part of the reason is because I’ve always worn a kidney belt… long before I started wearing body armor. It’s one of those things I feel naked without.

The biggest reason for a kidney belt now-days is because it keeps my shirt tucked in. I wear the kidney belt down low… partly under the belt-line of my pants. (The pants don’t actually have a belt, but you know what I mean.) Now that might not seem like a big deal, with all that other stuff on. But without the kidney belt, my shirt always comes un-tucked just above the beltline. And no matter what… any time I’ve ever gone sliding, the dirt seems to always find any exposed skin. Here’s the one I wear… about thirty bucks.

Knee Braces – Ok… now I’ve gone off the deep end. This purely stems from my racing, but it’s still that naked thing. I’ve worn these for so long now, I just can’t get on a dirt bike without them. There are no worthwhile knee braces under about $350 a pair… and they go up to over $750. But just think… I get to save twenty bucks on knee pads.

Socks – Yes, you’ve got to have some kind of socks under whatever you are wearing for boots. Sure… the best thing to do is to run down to Walmart and buy a pack of six athletic socks for less than the price of these overkill kind. But these overkill kind are oooooh so nice. Both of the ones below are O’Neal socks. The socks shown on the left ($17.50) are over-the-calf with moisture-wicking material for most of it, but thick knit heel and sole. The ones on the right ($28) are what I wear because they go almost up to my Yaa-Haa. The Yaa-Haa socks go under my knee braces to prevent chaffing.

All of the pics and links I’ve posted take you to Amazon. I can also recommend getting the same stuff from one of three places: rockymountainatvmc.com, btosports.com, and Chaparral Motorsports (chapmoto.com). I have received good service from all three, and have been doing business with Chaparral since they were a little ma-n-pa store in San Bernadino, Ca. in the early 80s.

I use mostly Amazon these days mostly because I have “Prime.” In normal times I (all Prime subscribers) get free shipping… 2 day on almost everything. I think it likely most of you have Prime by now. If not, they have a free 30 day deal. Even if you don’t want Prime, it would be worth their free deal if you are going to order a bunch of this stuff. You also get free Prime Movies, which during the Covid-19 thing might be a good idea for the next 30 days. Just click on the pic below.

I want to say again that the Ho Chi Minh Trail ride is in no way about pushing the limits. We won’t be doing anything any member of the group is uncomfortable with. I’m bringing all my stuff just because I have it… not because I intend to “test it out.”

When I started to answer the email about this stuff, I started out with, “I’ll make this a quick answer and let you ask questions.” Then I started writing the email. The email was growing into the monster you see now. So you see why I never sent that “quick” email.

I still invite you to ask questions or make comments. There are a million possibilities for this stuff, and I’ve only given you a few options.

Now… about what to bring. I’m working on a “quick” email for that and you’ve probably already figured out how that’s going. So that will be my next post. Stay tuned.

I wanted to add a little about Chaparral Motorsports. Their retail store may be one of my favorite places in the world to spend a day… yeah, a day. They are by no means a little store anymore. For me, I’m like a kid in a candy store. Except it’s a candy store that seems as big as an aircraft carrier… and that’s just their showroom. I won’t go into it all here, but they have about every brand of motorcycle you can think. And… they carry so much in the way of accessories & clothing that I can’t begin to name it all..

Although my flight itinerary to Laos has changed now, when I planned for last March, I arranged it so I could visit Chaparral during my 24-hour stay-over in the Los Angeles area. I don’t miss living in California, but I do miss being able to go to Chapparal.


#WeaselWords about the links to products on Amazon. All of the costs and labor associated with this web site are paid for out of my pocket. As such, to help defray the costs I have begun to include pics/links to products I use. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases when you click on the product links. In all cases, the links are to items I have purchased with my own money or have been recommended by a trusted source. I have never been supplied any of these items for free or at a discount. I have never been paid to endorse any product.

Truck Killers of The Night

As soon as President John F Kennedy took office in January, 1961, he recognized the need for a counterinsurgency military force. In particular, he knew the U.S. Air Force would need to train and equip for such an operation. Kennedy directed U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis Lemay to form such an organization.

A call went out for Airmen, officer and enlisted, to volunteer for a secret operation and they weren’t told what the operation would be… just that it would be unconventional, dangerous and that the U.S. government might disavow knowledge of their actions. The Air Force received more volunteers than it could use. In April, the “4400 Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS)” was formed at Eglin Auxiliary Field #9… Hurlburt Field. Calling the 4200nd a “Combat Crew Training Squadron” was a euphemism to keep secret what would soon become the 1st Air Commando Wing. Thus, the Air Commandos were reborn. (I say reborn here because the Air Commandos have a history back to WWII. I can’t possibly do the Air Commandos proper justice here, so I’ll recommend two books: “From a Dark Sky” and “Any Time Any Place” (Click on the pics to check them out on Amazon.)

Initially, the 4400 CCTS was equipped with C-47s, T-28s, and B-26 Invaders*. The operation was called, “Jungle Jim.” In December 1961, the 4400 CCTS was the first USAF unit to deploy to Southeast Asia (SEA) under the code name, “Farm Gate.” They were initially tasked with the job of training the South Vietnamese Air Force. Almost immediately, the “training” became full-on combat missions.

Early days of Jungle Jim. This Douglas B-26 had the reconnaissance glass nose installed. Most had the eight 50 cal guns nose installed. (USAF Photo)

The B-26 Invaders of the 4400 CCTS were very effective in their counter-insurgency role. They flew both close air support and supply interdiction missions. I should note here that B-26s were deployed to Takhli, Thailand as early as December 1960 and in April 1961 as part of operation Mill Pond. Mill Pond was designed as a counter-insurgency mission in Laos.

The B-26s continued to operate in Vietnam until they were grounded in April 1964 as a result of “wing spar fatigue.” During an airpower demonstration at Eglin Field #52, a B-26 on a strafing run in front of Senators and Congressmen lost a wing and crashed. Both crew members were killed. About the same time, a B-26 on a combat mission in Vietnam lost a wing, again killing all crew members.

To fix the problem, On Mark Engineering was selected to upgrade the B-26s. Besides fixing the wing spars, changes included better engines, propellers, brakes, wing-tip tanks, increased ordnance capacity, and revisions to the tail section for better controllability in the counter-insurgency role. The upgraded aircraft were re-designated as the B-26K Counter-Invader.

(Note: Originally there had only been B-26A/B/C models, so this was a skip all the way to K. A little later, you’ll see why “K”  now carries on.)

DAYTON, Ohio — Douglas B-26K Counter Invader at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A total of 40 B-26Ks were built at a cost of about 12 million dollars. I want to note here that there were 300 serviceable B-26A/B/C aircraft from the boneyard that were available to On Mark Engineering. These and more could have been converted to the B-26K configuration. While in production, On Mark delivered 4 conversions a month. But, in their great wizdom, the Air Force leadership (especially General “Spike” Momyer) wanted an all-jet Air Force. After all, why buy 40 B-26Ks when you could buy about seven F-4s for the same money. I’ll bring this up again later.

In June of 1966, the B-26Ks were set to deploy to Southeast Asia… Nakhon Phanom (NKP), Thailand specifically. But, the government of Thailand did not allow bombers to be based there at that time. So, the B-26K reverted to their original 1945 designation; A-26A.* (Later B-52s would be stationed at U-Tapao after the Thai government changed their policy.)

The deployment was called operation “Big Eagle.” A detachment of eight aircraft from the 603rd Air Commando Squadron arrived at NKP. At the time AC-47s had been used with success against the Ho Chi Minh trail. But, the NVA brought in 37mm AAA guns and several of the Spooky gunships were shot down. The A-26s were being tested as a replacement.

The Detachment Commander at NKP was Colonel Domenico Curto. When he was asked what they wanted for their call-sign Col. Curto chose from the Book of Genisis in the bible. He chose, “Nimrod”… a great hunter. Some accounts say some guys in the detachment were “less than enthusiastic” about the call-sign. But since he was a “Full Bull,” the name stuck. Almost immediately, the Nimrods proved they were great hunters.

Their primary job was interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Strategists thought that if we could stop the flow of men, munitions, and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to South Vietnam, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army would not be able to wage war there.

Forty-five days after their arrival, Col. Curto flew to Saigon to brief “Spike.”… Ummmm General Momyer on the Nimrods progress. Col. Curto pointed out that while the A-26s flew only 8% of the missions, they had accounted for 50% of the vehicles destroyed on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The facts were there to back that up. But in typical “Spike” fashion, Momyer poo-pooed anything to do with propeller aircraft.

Upon his departure from NKP, Col. Curto sent a memo pointing out that the 4 hour loiter capability of the A-26 should be taken advantage of. He said that it would take six jet aircraft with a loiter capability of only 40 minutes to do the same thing. Pointing out that the Nimrods would be better suited to the task, the memo stated, “Assuming that 18 A-26 sorties were available per night, 118 jet aircraft sorties could be diverted to other areas.”

Well, you can imagine how that went over with Spike.

Just the same, the Nimrods were so successful that by October, ’66, the Ambassador to Laos, William Sullivan, requested eight more A-26s to support operations in Laos. The request was initially rejected by 7th AF. (I read into that rejected by Spike.) But, Ambassador Sulivan went over Spike’s head to CINC PACAF, Admiral Ulysses G. Sharp with his proposal.  Admiral Sharp (and the Joint Chiefs of Staff) agreed with the evaluation of the A-26s success so far but only authorized an additional four aircraft.

So impressive were the Nimrods that four Forward Air Controllers (FACs) of the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron wrote a little ditty sung to the tune of Ghost Riders of the Sky.

By November the Nimrods were also tasked to support operations in the Barrel Roll area of Laos. Every year, there was a see-saw battle over the Plain of Jars in the northern part of Laos. The North Vietnamese would build up their forces, and supplies to attack at the beginning of the dry season. The Nimrods were used to attack those North Vietnamese forces.

Beginning on 1 Nov, the Nimrods were tasked for four sorties per night into Barrel Roll. In the seven days from 2 Nov to 9 Nov, those four per night sorties damaged or destroyed 67 trucks, one bulldozer (destroyed), four antiaircraft guns destroyed, and 384 enemy troops killed with many more wounded. By 10 Nov, Hmong commanders reported, “little [North Vietnamese] traffic was moving along Routes 6 & 65 as a result of successful A-26 bombings.” The same report suggested that the NVA had fewer than 20 trucks remaining in the region by 12 Nov.

In December, the USAF flew 447 sorties in the Barrel Roll area resulting in 31 truck kills. The A26s flew only 20 of the sorties and were credited with 27 trucks “killed. For December in the Steel Tiger area (Ho Chi Minh Trail) the USAF flew 2,546 sorties with 163 trucks damaged or destroyed. The A-26s flew 175 of the sorties with 99 of the kills.

You do the math. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Nimrods had proven themselves to be the best truck killers of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Still, Momyer was against anything with a propeller that wasn’t a transport.

I should mention that the numbers I used for sorties and kills are taken from a project CHECO report, “Lucky Tiger Combat Operations, 15 Jun 1967, HQ PACAF. This CHECO was prepared by the well-respected Mr. Warren A Trest.

The Nimrods continued to operate under the 606th Air Commando Squadron until the 56th Air Commando Wing was established in April 1967 under the command of Col. Harry “Henie” Aderholt. Don’t ask me where the nickname Heinie came from… no one seems to know. In September 1967 the Nimrods were formed into their own squadron… the 609th Air Commando Squadron. (Like all Air Commando Units, they were later changed to Special Operations designations.)

Versatile and when necessary the Nimrods could be used for close air support. In May of 67, they were diverted to Barrel Roll and stopped an attack by the NVA attack on a Lima Site. In Feb 68 the 609th ACS flew sorties supporting the Marine Corps firebase at Khe Sanh.

In the second quarter of 1968, the Nimrods established the record for truck kills. In April they took out 459 truck kills which set and still is the single month record by one Squadron. For the quarter, they had 831 truck kills… also still the record for one squadron for the April – June quarter during the war. I should note that April to June is typically the beginning of the rainy season and the trucks quit moving down the HCMT. So the 831 kills during a time with fewer trucks is an even more amazing achievement.

Operation Commando Hunt I began in November 1968. Commando Hunt I was an all-out attempt to stop the flow of men, munitions, and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Since President Lyndon B, Johnson had ordered a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam, the Air Force had at its disposal the full force of every aircraft in the theatre to attack the Ho Chi Minh Trail. F-105s at Korat and Takhli and F-4s at Ubon and Udorn were sent against the Ho Chi Minh Trail. US Navy and Marine aircraft also participated in Commando Hunt I.

The numbers become a little hard to pin down because different reports use different metrics. So, take the following as an estimate of the scope of the operation. The U.S. (Navy, Airforce, Marines) flew 72,258 sorties in the 151 days of Commando Hunt I. There were 6108 trucks destroyed or damaged. Seventy aircraft were lost. The Nimrods flew 2,718 of the sorties and damaged or destroyed 1,718 trucks. The Nimrods would have had even more kills, but they were often “called off” to allow flights of F-4s or F-105s to make their pass because the jets were low on fuel. The Nimrods would go into holding orbits while the jets made their “runs.”

The F-4s were notorious for missing by a large margin. They simply weren’t designed for those kinds of missions. When the Nimrods were called back to resume their attack, the trucks had gone into hiding. The Nimrods did lose one aircraft and crew to enemy AAA during Commando Hunt I.

She was a tough old bird. A/C 645 was patched up and continued to fly combat missions until the Nimrods were withdrawn. Unfortunately, her fate wasn’t good. On 10 November 1969, she was turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force. In March 1975 she was blown up at Nha Trang to prevent her from falling into North Vietnamese hands. (USAF Photo)

One other factor I want to point out. A later study showed that the cost for an F-4 to kill one truck was about $700,000. The cost for an A-26 to kill a truck was about $50,000. Again, the exact numbers can be disputed depending on which report you want to cite. Just the same, the orders of magnitude are not out of the question. For about the cost of one truck kill by an F-4, the USAF could have bought two more A-26s.

It’s clear that the Air Force should have bought hundreds of A-26s as well as other Air Commando type aircraft like A-1s when they had the chance to. If there had been several squadrons of A-26s, then maybe there would have been a much more significant impact on the flow of men, munitions, and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. But there I go again… trying to rewrite history. It didn’t happen.

In November 1969 the Nimrods were withdrawn from service and most of them sent back to the boneyard. The reason stated was supply problems supporting the aircraft and their vulnerability to the increasing AAA covering the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Supply problems was a bogus excuse. There were supply problems for every aircraft in the theatre and were not any worse for the A-26s. It probably was better than others for the A-26… there were still 260 in the boneyard to pick parts from.

One of the reasons the A-26 was so effective was the bomb load it could carry. This was just the load for the wings. The bomb-bay had another 12 stations that could carry a variety of ordinance. The ordinance loads shown in this picture were likely fragged for missions into Barrel Roll. (USAF photo illegally taken by A1C Robert Dennard in 1969 just before the Nimrods were retired.)
Took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’. This A/C (tail #660) was also patched up and flew till withdrawn from combat. But her fate wasn’t any better than 645. She was flown back to the boneyard at Davis Monthan and “reclaimed” in 1972. (USAF photo)

It is true that AAA was becoming a problem. With the bombing halt, the NVA moved AAA from North Vietnam to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It had been suggested to 7th Air Force… General Momyer… that the F-4s could be used for “flack suppression” so the A-26s (and by then A-1s) could work the trail. Well… you know how Spike took to that.

It would have been unthinkable for Spike to have F-4s fly AAA suppression for prop-driven attack aircraft. Spike simply couldn’t grasp the concepts necessary for limited war operations such as the interdiction of the HCMT. As early as Nov ’66 he said the mission in Laos could be performed more effectively by F-4s. It was only because of the shortage of F-4s that he allowed the A-26s to continue until more F-4s were available. Spike just didn’t get it.

In a post-war writing, General Momyer stated the Air Force, “should not waste scarce time and money developing specialized aircraft for counterinsurgency.”

As we entered into the Second Indochina War, widely held Air Force policy was that we should prepare for general war. Momyer and others believed that spending money on less than general war would hamper the general war capability.

I do have to concur with General Momyer in one sense. He did not want to pick off trucks one by one out on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He once said, “Nothing on the Ho Chi Minh Trail is worth the loss of one pilot.” Instead, Spike wanted to knock them out at their source in North Vietnam; Hanoi, Hai Phong, and Vinh with unrestricted attacks… for which F-105s, F-4s, and B-52s were well suited.

I can’t close this without mentioning the aircraft that took over truck killin’ duties after the A-26s were withdrawn. The AC-119 and AC-130 gunships became the most dominant aircraft on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Of the total USAF sorties flown against the HCMT during their time, only about 10% were flown by the gunships. But… of the 40,000 trucks claimed as damaged or destroyed, the gunships accounted for about 66% of them.

One more set of numbers to throw at you; During the following two dry season Commando Hunt operations (III & V). F-4s flew over 13,000 truck attack sorties and killed 3,712 trucks. In the same time frame, gunships flew about 3000 sorties and killed a whopping 19, 512 trucks. (Taken from CHECO “USAF Operations in Laos, 1 January 1970 – 30 June 1971”)

Early A/C 130 gunship over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. (USAF Photo)
Later model of the AC-119K of the 18th SOS. Note the jet pods on the wings. This aircraft was probably flying out of NKP, mid-1971 through December 1972. (USAF Photo)

It’s interesting to note that after General Momyer left the 7th Air Force, F-4s were used for flack suppression for the gunships. The F-4s did a great job at it allowing the gunships to concentrate on killing trucks.

Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, “There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics.” Some critics have said the reported “kills” were over-inflated. And I suspect that is true. But I don’t think anyone one group was better at over-inflating than any other. So no matter what percent you might want to discount the numbers, it’s clear that the gunships were the best truck killers of their era.

When I was in 11th grade I took a shop class and the teacher told us, “always use the proper tool for the job.” It’s a shame General Momyer wasn’t in that shop class with me.

Earlier I mentioned the letter designation “K” for the B-26K now has extra meaning. You see… there is only one B-26K still flying; A/C tail #679. It was the last aircraft to be modified by On Mark Engineering and delivered to the Air Force. In a tradition older than the Air Force, many of her older “sisters” were nick-named by the pilots who flew them. A-26 Nimrod aircraft had names such as: “Nother Trucker,” “Sweet Therese,”  “Mighty Mouse,” and “Batplane.” (Batplane was flown by All “Batman” Short and Larry “Robin” Counts. I wish I knew how Batman and Robin got their nicknames.)

Here “Batman and Robin” were doing their walk-around prior to delivering “Easter eggs” to Uncle Ho. (USAF photo)

The last flying B-26K, A/C 679, has been given the nick-name, “Special Kay.” She has been restored to all her glory and is now operated by a group of dedicated volunteers at the Vintage Flying Museum in Dallas Texas.

Their mission is to keep Special Kay flying as, “a ‘flying’ memorial to the valiant secretive service of the men of the United States Air Force who flew and maintained her during the Vietnam War. Their famous aircraft will be shared with air-show visitors nationwide in a tailored aerial display; designed to captivate public interest and attention … and … to raise younger Americans’ educational awareness of the now “declassified” military service provided by these heroic Air Commandos in Southeast Asia.”

Special Kay. The last flying A-26 (B-26K) in the world. Photo was stolen from the A-26 Special Kay Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/a26specialkay/

In the interest of full disclosure, I guess I should mention that I am not a totally objective observer. I spent eleven months of my time at NKP as a member of the 609th Special Operations Squadron. I’m very proud to have been a member of the Nimrods.

*There is confusion about the B-26 because two different aircraft have been designated as a B-26. First, the Martin Marauder B-26 was used in WWII. Near the end of the war another aircraft, built by Douglas, was introduced as the A-26 Invader. Then when the Martin Marauder was retired, the A-26 Invader continued in service and was re-designated as a B-26. All variants of the Douglas Invader then carried the “B-26” designation including the “K” model until the “K” was introduced into the war and stationed at NKP. When stationed at NKP the designation was changed to A-26A.

No Bangkok Massage Parlors

Today’s post was supposed to be a “wrap-up” of the Great Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride. I intended to use the last day in Laos & Thailand to reflect on everything. There were to be glorious stories of “places to go, things to do, and people to see”… and of Bangkok massage parlors. As we know, the world has changed, at least temporarily, and I never made it anywhere.

As the COVID-19 virus started spreading, I figured I would make it to Laos in the nick of time to complete the trip. I mean, as long as I got there healthy, the jungles of the HCMT were probably going to be the safest place to be. I had a whole plan for getting there healthy: a bag full disinfectant wipes and sprays to sanitize a cocoon around me; a 3/4 face mask with N99 rated filters. I also obtained some MREs so I wouldn’t have to touch or eat anything brought to me by others.

I even considered the consequence of getting stuck there for a while. As you will see in a minute, I hadn’t considered all the implications. But I figured if I got stuck there, I would just ride it out. At the time, Laos didn’t have any cases of COVID – 19. So, if I got stuck in Laos, I thought it would just be a chance to go more places that had been deleted from the itinerary.

That even sounded like a good idea. You know… see all the stuff I was going to miss. And if some government or airline wouldn’t let me come home, then I wouldn’t have to justify it to my wife… I wouldn’t end up talking in a high-squeaky voice after I got back. Yeah… that’s the ticket.

Or perhaps I would get stuck in Thailand because our government closed down any incoming. Ok… that wouldn’t be so bad either. I would just rent a “street” motorcycle in Bangkok and tour Thailand. At the time, I thought another trip to Chiang Mai would be in order. Even if travel became somewhat restricted, I would just find a Bangkok massage parlor to stay in… not such a bad way to “hunker-down.” And once again, nothing to explain to my wife. Ummmm… I wouldn’t tell about the massage parlor part.

As things started to unfold, I even considered going a week earlier to avoid possible requirements to “self-quarantine.” My thinking was, “Just get there.”

All of this “schemin’” was only a bit more than three weeks ago. About the time I started packing my gear (I always wait till the last days to pack), I began receiving emails from the Thai and Laotian embassies. When traveling abroad, I always sign up for the “Smart Traveler Enrolment Program” (STEP) to receive travel updates and warnings. All the warnings were to “reconsider travel.” Ok… I reconsidered… and I’m still going.

Then the warnings became a little more concerning; “…airlines may cancel at any time, and countries may close their borders at any time… be prepared to stay for a prolonged period.” No sweat. I had considered that. A prolonged period in a Thai massage parlor seemed pretty good to me.

Within a couple of days came the messages from Laos border crossings were closed, but Wattay airport would remain open. Each day the warnings became more dire. Finally, the warning included “no travel from Thailand to Laos soon.” I could no longer deny the obvious. I “pulled the plug.” I realized that the measures governments around the world were implementing would mean no riding the HCMT… no Thai massage parlors. None of what I planned and hoped for was going to happen.

Since then, I continue to get updates from the embassies. Laos is “closed down” with no travel within the provinces or between the provinces. All airports are closed. I even tried to send a package to Don Duval in Vientiane, but no carrier can get there. The Embassy in Vientiane chartered a “last chance” flight out of Laos, and it departed on 12 Apr… at a cost of $1900 per-person to San Francisco.

Now about that Bangkok massager parlor. Here an update from the Thai Embassy:

“On 25 Mar, the Royal Thai Government declared a national state of emergency, effective 26 Mar, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Thailand.  Most restaurants, stores, and entertainment venues are closed… Several provinces have closed their borders…”

It appears that all hotels in Thailand have been directed to close and that all airports are either shut down or soon will be. As I continue to get daily updates from the embassies, I’m just glad I “pulled the plug” when I did. If I had made it to Thailand or Laos, I would have never have made it to the HCMT. I would likely have just turned around and come home, or be stuck there… and no massage parlor.

Today’s notice from the Laotian Embassy was:

Departure of Special Chartered Flight on April 12

A special chartered flight arranged by the U.S. Department of State departed Vientiane on April 12. The Embassy is not aware of any remaining option available to U.S. Citizens for leaving Laos via commercial means. The Embassy will not be arranging for another chartered flight.

I was scheduled to fly out of Southern Laos to Bangkok on the 13th. By then all flight out of Laos had been canceled. The following paraphrases a very long email from the Embassy, but this is the essence of what it said.

“If you can, get out now. Flights into Thailand are being suspended. Thus, there will be no airplanes to take you out. If you don’t get out immediately, then plan on remaining in Thailand indefinitely.”

Pewwwww! It’s a good thing I didn’t make it there. It would have been one thing to spend a few extra weeks in either Laos or Thailand… but that “indefinitely” part wouldn’t be fun. Everything in both Laos and Thailand is in lockdown. Only it is much more stringent than it is here. There would have been no exploring or travel of any kind. I’m not sure where I would even stay… indefinitely.

Fortunately, all of my airline travel expenses have been refunded. I canceled the hotel reservations early enough, so I didn’t have to pay any penalty.

If you read my last post, you already know the Great Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride is NOT canceled… only postponed. The current planning is to make the trip in mid-November. The way things are looking, I think the world will be mostly “opened-up” again by then. It seems to be the best time to go.

In the meantime, I’m going to resume posting stuff about Laos and the HCMT. There’s a lot more to tell about now that I have time to post it. Upcoming topics may include:

  • The Kong Lor Cave
  • Pathet-Lao Caves
  • Southern segments of the HCMT (sometimes called “Tiger Hound”)
  • The Bolaven Plateau
  • Operation Black Lion
  • Commando Hunt I – VII
  • And more as time allows.

Stay tuned.

As always, comments are encouraged. Keep in mind that comments are moderated and may not appear to the general public for a little while. While almost any “on topic” and “civil” comments are welcome, keep in mind that this is not the place partisan political or venomous debates.

Silver Linings and Plan Update

Somewhere back in the beginning of my dreamin’-n-schemin’ for the Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride, I quoted General Dwight D. Eisenhower saying, “Plans are worthless, planning is everything.” Later, as President, Ike said, “In an emergency, the first thing to do is take all the plans off the top shelf and throw them out the window.”

Well… we have found ourselves in the middle of an emergency and the HCMTrial Ride plan is certainly out the window. So I begin to plan again. My current “planning” is for this coming November.

I’m the kind of guy that can find a silver lining in almost everything. So it is in this case:

Silver Lining #1 – I checked today’s weather and it will be near 100 degrees(F) out on the HCMT. (102 in Vientiane). It would have been “toasty” in the days we would have been there this month. If the new plan takes us there in… say the middle of November, the highs will be in the mid 80s and lows in the mid 60s. November will be a much better time to ride.

April is the hottest time in Laos… especially this year.

Silver Lining #2 –  If we are there in November, it will be before the “slash & burn” season has begun. During slash & burn, most of the region is smokey and otherwise great photo-opps are just hazy grey. One of my goals is to get drone pics of all the areas of significance. November will be a much better time for that rather than this April. April is in the worst of the slash & burn season.

Silver Lining #3 –  There were a few guys wanting to go, but couldn’t go in April. Now, they may have a chance to go.

Silver Lining #4 –  My schedule for April limited how much time I could spend in Laos. I was required to be back home by 15 April. That meant only 14 days of exploration. With November as the new target, the schedule can be extended and we may be able to go a few places that were omitted.

So… with all that said, here’s the new planning. Since November is the beginning of the “Dry Season” it makes sense to wait till then to go. Any attempt to go earlier would likely result in impassable places. Even late October might be ok, but for the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Second Indochina War, not much started moving in October. Then, right at the first of November it was like the “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain. But on the HCMT, it was the “Running of the Trucks.” Therefore, for the new plan, I’m picking mid-November for the “Running of the Great HCMTrail Ride.” (Yeah, yeah, I hear ya… it’s corny.)

Running of the bulls Great HCMTrail Ride begins in November.

Ummmm… actually, except for date changes, there’s not much to changing the plan. The itinerary will remain essentially the same. I may add in a few days. I really wanted to see and go through the Kong Lor Cave. That takes an full extra day but I think the experience will be worth it.

I also want to be able to go “off script” a bit. With a couple extra days we could make side trips and even venture into some unexplored areas. With that said, for now,  I’m adding 3 extra days to the “plan;” plus another day for the Kong Lor Cave. I’ve now picked November 16 as the day the HCMTrail Ride will begin.

I still plan to fly to Bangkok first. For me, November 10 is the new date to depart the US. With all the travel and jet-lag, I’ll spend through  the 13th in Bangkok to recover. Then I’ll fly to Vientiane on the 14th. Allowing a day in Vientiane, we head out on the 16th.

None of this is cast in blood yet. Don Duval may want to suggest changes. But I’m not going to wait long to make new airline reservations. Tickets are as cheap now as they are ever going to be. The chart below shows examples of costs to Bangkok (BKK) from various airports in the US. Note that all prices shown are round-trip.

  • Los Angeles (LAX)– $589 (American Airlines)
  • Atlanta (ATL) – $1007 (Delta & Korean Air)
  • Chicago(ORD) – $607 (Delta & Korean Air)
  • New York (JFK) – $552 (Asiana Airlines)
  • New York (JFK) – $657 (Delta & Korean Air)
  • Boston(BOS) – $723 (Cathay Pacific)
  • Dallas – $760 (Delta & Korean Air)
  • San Francisco(SFO) – $606 (EVA Airways)
  • Miami (MIA) – $746 (Qatar Airways)
  • Fort Walton Beach (VPS) – $1067 (Puddle Jumpers-R-Us)

Of course you can fly straight into Vientiane for around $200 to $500 more. As one example, you can fly Chicago to Vientiane for $908. My price checks came from Expedia. You can check for yourself on your favorite site.

As always, your comments are welcome, but remember they are moderated and may not appear to the public for a few hours. If you are interested in going, then contact me directly. rdennard@memoriesofnakedfanny.com

HCMTrail Ride Still On

For anyone following this, I just wanted to give a quick update. As the heading says, as of 15 Mar, the ride is still on as scheduled. (Beware, the ides of March are upon us.) Nothing is going to change the plan unless some airline or government stops me from getting there.

I get email messages almost daily from the US embassies in Laos and Thailand warning about possible quarantine. HOWEVER, so far… both governments are only using “enhanced” screening at the airports. Anyone who arrives without a fever will be required to “self monitor” for 14 days. If you have a fever, you will be quarantined.

So… I am sequestering myself as of today. I can’t come down with the cootie bugs if I don’t get contact with cootie bugs. I’m not going out of the house until it’s time to get on the airplane.

So far, it does not seem like either the Thai or Laotian governments are going to close down the borders to foreign travellers. I am worried about some government (ours) in preventing me from coming back. For now, our government is only stopping foreign visitors from entering. I just hope it remains that way till I get back.

If, however, I get there and can’t come back for a while, Laos is the place to be. So far, no one there tested positive for the cootie bug. Laos hasn’t closed their borders, but that could happen. If I get stuck in Thailand, that would be ok too. If I had to self-quarantine there for 14 days, I would give them a massage parlor address for my self quarantine. After that, I would just rent a motorcycle and tour Thailand.

So, no matter what, I’m going if not prohibited. And no matter what, this will have a happy ending.