Letters from the War – Thailand 4

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.

19  June 1973:  just when I was getting complacent about the “war” —  we lost one a couple of days ago.   An F4 took a direct hit while dive bombing a  Triple A position (AAA – Anti-aircraft weapons) near Pnom Penh    What a way to go, helping the Cambodian “Tooth pick industry” by blowing up trees.  13th TFS patch

Word has it that the GIB’s name was Jack Smallwood.  Don’t know the A/C (aircraft commander) but they weren’t assigned to the 13th.   Since they weren’t Recce Pukes  (assigned to the 14th TRS – unarmed F4s used for photo missions) they had to be in the 555th – the Triple Nickel.    The aircraft went in, no chutes, no survivors.

20 June 1973: Well, I had my check ride yesterday and it went pretty well. So now I am fully qualified to go into combat –about three weeks too late by my reckoning. We had a 4-hour mission and refueled 3 times.

View from the back seat of tanker

View from the back seat of tanker

We ended up flying down about 8 miles west of Phnom Penh and blowing up enemy troop emplacements.  They said we could see Angor Wat near the lake below, but at 35,000 feet I couldn’t pick it out.

I have now been flying in combat for a  over a three weeks, they got me in combat on May 31 so I would get combat pay, which I still haven’t seen.   There is some sort of SNAFU with my orders, my whole baggage also went on its merry way to Ubon.  Luckily I was carrying all my flying gear with me.   Not an easy thing to do as I had to lug it to the Philippines and then here.  But at least I have it.

22 June 1973: I have been flying quite a bit–29 hours this month so far. I’ll probably have 400 or so by the time I leave here. I heard the other day that when the war ends my squadron is to be disbanded in 2 months, so who knows perhaps I’ll go to Okinawa.

Refueling over SEA

23 June 1973: Not too much is new really–every day appears much like the last. I get up, I eat, I ride to the squadron and brief our mission. The other morning when it was really early as I rode out on the crew bus I saw the sun tint the morning sky and wondered how many others had done this–gone to their planes and had not returned that day. I feel very happy that I am here now, rather than last year at this time. Well, I didn’t mean to get too weighty.

Write soon and remember me to my grandmother.  I write to them all, but you get the real, as it is, news.  And, oh yes Linda (my sister) wrote and asked what it was like to kill people….

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 Air Force, Air Force lingo, American History, Cambodia bombing 1973, Combat, F-4 Phantom II, Family History, Fighter Aircraft, Fighter pilot lingo, Fighter pilot slang, Norvell Family History, Thailand, U Dorn RTAFB, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.