Note to reader: As a U.S. invited contractor I was issued a Department of defense noncombatant’s certificate of identity with assimilated rank of Colonel/EGS-15, equal to a military grade of 0-6. I was issued blanket travel orders to board military aircraft to any in-country military installation. These travel orders were valid from 1968 to March 1973. After which I traveled either on commercial or Air America aircraft until April 1975.
Going There: World Airways DC-8 Charter ~ 1968
In the 1960s, World Airways became the first U.S. charter airline to enter the jet age with the acquisition of new Boeing 707s.
The USAF Military Airlift Command, “MAC”, used World Airways Charters extensively during the Vietnam era for Military troop transfers.
World’s most famous flight was on 2 April 1975
The first ‘Operation Babylift’ flight took off from Saigon in darkness; the airport had turned the runway lights off. The DC-8 departed without a formal clearance to take off or a flight plan filed. Oakland Aviation Museum Life Members Bill Keating and Ken Healy piloted the flight. Ed Daly paid for the flight out of his own pocket.
My first in-country flights ~
Fairchild C-123 ~ 1969-73
Douglas C-47 – Cam Ranh Bay to Tuy Hoa 1969
Malaysia Singapore Airlines Boeing 737-100 ~ October 1969
Thai Caravelle – Saigon to Bandkok ~ 1970
l’Aero Club de France Xuan Loc – February 1971
US Army U1A Otter March 1971 ~ Qui Nhon to Marble Mountain
While en-route to Da Nang when all of a sudden the ‘Herky’ had engine trouble and was forced to land at Qui Nhon.
I hopped another non-scheduled flight on this Otter and had a never forgotten the thrilling experience when the engine conk-out near Marble Mountain.
The pilot turned to the passengers and shouted not to worry, he just forgot to turn on the valve for the spare fuel supply.
He also assured us the Otter could glide for miles without power and land safely when there was a flat surface to do so.
We landed safe and sound and a little shook up at Marble Mountain. Needless to say, I continued to Da Nang via ground transportation.
Air Cambodia Douglas C-47 – Saigon to Phnom Penn, Cambodia March 1971
With a letter of introduction from American Embassy, Saigon and letters of credit from Hong Kong and American Banks, I traveled to Phnom Penn seeking out business ventures. The contract process was as corrupt as it was in Saigon.
I did not pursue nor wanted to deal with the Cambodian military purchasing officers.
However, I negotiated and was awarded a fuel transportation contract with Shell du Cambodge.
The VN consortium I represented provided shallow draft fuel tankers transporting petroleum products via the Mekong River between Nha Be and Phnom Penn.
Air Vietnam DC-6 ~ Saigon to Tuy Hoa, November 1971 to February 1972
De Havilland US Army U-6A Beaver ~ Tuy Hoa to Nha Trang, 1971 – 72
While on ‘TDY’ the troop withdrawal was on ‘fast track’ and scheduled flights were rare at Tuy Hoa US Army Airfield.
I found air transportation by any kind of available aircraft.
The base was placed under the control of the provisional Seventh Air Force 6257th Air Base Squadron on 15 October 1970, which facilitated the transfer of United States equipment to the control of the VNAF or to other United States controlled bases in South Vietnam.
The base was renamed Tuy Hoa Army Airfield and various U.S. Army units, including all army aviation units based at Phú Hiệp Airfield were relocated here.
The facility was turned over to South Vietnamese government control on 15 January 1972.
Beechcraft U-21 – Tuy Hoa to Long Binh/Plantation or TSN, Saigon 1971 – 72
U-10B Super Courier – Tuy Hoa to Long Binh ~ 1972
Pilatus PC-6 Porter – Nha Tang to Saigon ~ 1972
This was my most fun flight while in Vietnam. I had to hitchhike from Tuy Hoa to Nha Trang using local ground transportation. I knew the Air America dispatcher and he manifested me on first available flight.
I also knew the pilot who later became a volunteer radio operator and occasionally worked with me at Saigon MARS transmitter.
He allowed me to set right side up front. This plane was made famous with actor Mel Gibson at the controls in Air America film.
U.S. Embassy Jet – Tuy Hoa to Saigon, February 1972
Thai Caravelle – April 1972
Air Vietnam Boeing 727 – Da Nang to Saigon ~ 1973
This flight was the closest I ever came to being vaporized in mid-air.
After boarding and reaching my seat, I noticed an ARVN solider carrying several plastic bags containing a pinkish colored liquid. I immediately recognized the substance from one of my first experiences in ‘Nam.
[When I first went to An Khe from Qui Nhon, I was driven there by Jeep with an American civilian driver. Going north on QL-1 a few kilometers and turning west at the QL-19 intersection. The road ran through flat countryside with minor climbing over rolling foothills. When we passed by LZ Diamond Head and Binh Khe we were entering the An Khe pass.
Along the way, I notice a number of road stands. My driver said they sold cold beer and soda and locally prepared ‘fast food’. I asked him to stop at the next one we see and I would by us some cold refreshments. He said the only thing he would drink would be from and sealed can.
We found one and I saw some pinkish colored liquid hanging around the counter in clear plastic bags. I asked him if that was something good to drink. He said, “Hell no, that’s probably mo-gas or av-gas recently pilfered from our leaking pipeline.”
I told him I took it for koolaide! So, we had a couple of cold beers instead.]
My first encounter with real affirmative action.
I was sitting midsection and slowly got up and moved to the cockpit and inform the pilot. He asked if I was armed.
Yes, I was. He said for me to draw my weapon and walk behind him toward the seated ARVN solider. He grabbed him and clutched his arms around the culprits shoulders and carried him to the rear ramp and threw him down the stairs.
The pilot told me to shoot him if he attempted to light up the bags of fuel.
A ground crewman was on scene and dragged the potential suicide bomber away from the aircraft. The pilot requested that I not discuss the incident with passengers and then he calmly walk forward to cockpit and began take off procedures.
Leaving There: Lockheed C-141 StarLifter ~ 27 April 1975
About all I can now add to this is the gut feeling the Air Force Captain and I had Sunday morning (27 April) after NVA rockets had earlier slammed into the roof of the Majestic Hotel.
We were billeted in temporary embassy quarters that Mallette had arranged with an embassy contact and was located several blocks from Majestic. We had evacuated our respective families and after my unpleasant experience on Friday with the QC at TSN, we decided it was time depart.
The captain and I left at 1800 hrs that same evening aboard a C-141 among over 300 people; majority who were Vietnamese. The load-master sat us in regimented rows on the aircraft floor and belted us using cargo straps attached to the bulkheads.
Our destination was Anderson AF Base, Guam.
Mallette stayed behind to close operations and I later learned he got out the afternoon of 29 April.
Pan Am 747 Guam ~ 5 May 1975
My family and I looked more like happy tourists boarding that Pan Am 747 at Anderson Air Force, Guam rather than scared-stiff refugees fleeing Saigon.
John Malch, 31 August 2015
Occasionally, I have been asked if I ever was a passenger in a military helicopter during my tour in South Vietnam.
I tried a few times to hitch a ride in a chopper and was always politely refused by the pilots. Their prime reason. It was against regulations to transport unauthorized civilians who did not have valid travel orders to travel by helicopter. If the pilot was caught, it was a career buster.
I heard rumors about some chopper pilots who bent the rules and ferried in hookers to remote military installations and not log in names of their passengers. Also, discretely carried Dough Nut Dollies and mostly female entertainers for a quick thrill ride in a chopper. These were ‘chopper tales’ and never confirmed. I spent nearly seven continuous years in-country and never knew of any American civilian who ever rode in a chopper without authorized travel orders.
The Vietnam war made choppers famous, especially the Huey. About 12,000 helicopters served in that war. What made choppers infamous were the amount of them that were destroyed by all causes. Nearly 42% (5086) was the number of helicopters lost in the Vietnam War.
This was another reason why pilots were reluctant to carry unauthorized personnel. It was just too damned dangerous to do so.