Letters from the War – Thailand 2

John Norvell F4 Backseat

The following excerpts are from  letters that were written to my wife and others during the Vietnam War, while I was stationed in Thailand. Because of the nature of the events, the letters seldom told the entire story to loved ones.  Some things were best left unsaid.  In some instances, I have added to the story to make events clearer than they were in the letters.

9 June 1973:  Had a big Sawadee – Thai for hello and goodbye– party last night to welcome us new guys and say goodbye to those who were going home. 13th TFS patch1 The “Short timers” took great pains to say that if they had just arrived, they would cut their throats.  Lots of kidding and fun, there is a real spirit  here.

It was held at a hotel downtown.  For the occasion we had to go to one of the shops outside the main gate and order a party suit.  It would be bad form to go to a squadron party in civ clothes.   The suits are all black with several unit patches on them, an American and Thai flag on the sleeves, a “Yankee Air Pirate” patch over the heart as well as wings.

10 June 1973 :   I am settling in; flying here is different from Luke (Luke AFB, Phoenix Arizona). First you have a survival vest that weighs about 20 lbs. and the harness has a tree lowering device that weighs about another 20 lbs. But what really lets you know you’re in a different world is when you strap on the gun. We also carry a big 5 inch (blade) bowie-knife, such is life.   Who would have ever thought I would have a 38 strapped on my leg someday when I was at Hobart.  You never know what the future will bring.


11 June 1973: Celebrated “Roger Locher” night at the club. 3  One year ago he was rescued after 21 days on the ground in North Vietnam eluding capture.   We learned about him in Survival at Fairchild, but I didn’t know where he flew out of, now I do.   Every night is a party at the O Club,  Roger Locher’s anniversary was as good an excuse as any to put the day behind us.  It got pretty wild — lots of bar games and fighter pilot songs such as “Nickel on the Grass.”2  I won’t go into more detail, but things were really flowing for a while.  I don’t like to fly hung over, but it doesn’t seem to bother a lot of fighter jocks.   Some of the old majors look pretty grim on the crew bus at dawn.   One of my pilots is Major Blood, what a great name for a fighter pilot.

On another note, they still haven’t gotten my pay straightened out.   I find it ironic that they can send me into combat on a daily basis, and pay me that extra $65 a month to hang it all out, and then not pay me.

I have enough cash to last until the end of the month.  Hope all is ok at home.


1 The common welcome to new guys was “Say Hello to the New Guys” — response “Hello Assh….”  Followed by “Say Hello to the Assh….” Response: “Hello New Guys.”  Fighter units are a tough bunch.

2 “Nickel on the Grass, ” is probably the best known of all the fighter jock songs, I learned it in Arizona.  It went in part: “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Throw a Nickel on the grass — Save a Fighter Pilots Ass, and You’ll be saved.”  It originated during the Korean War, and was always, I repeat always sung in the bar after a long day in the air.

3. In a bit of irony I would fly with Roger Locher in Alaska in the 43rd TFS doing air defense missions, if anyone ever had the “Right Stuff,” it was Roger.

to be continued :


About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in 13 TFS, 43 TFS, American History, Combat, F-4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, Fighter pilot lingo, Fighter pilot slang, Thailand, U Dorn RTAFB, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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