Cat. no. 78-21

Air Strike at the French Fort

Date: Nov-78
Item Type: Painting
Support: Artist Board
Owner: USAF Museum
Dimensions: 48 X 72

Air Strike at the French Fort. 48 x 72. (71-12)

1. Ten kilometers west of Tigertown in the central highlands of
Vietnam, there are the remains of a triangular French fort built in
the Viet Minh days. On the evening of the first day I reported to my
forward location, we were in contact with the North Vietnamese and
conducting air strikes close to the fort. My boss, Major Ed Garland,
took me out in the back seat of an 0-1 to observe strikes that were
being controlled by Major Norm Comfort. We arrived just as an F-4 had
a can of napalm explode on his wing. I thought he had been shot down,
and the vivid scene engraved itself on my memory. As it turned out,
the F-4 flew through the fire unscathed.
2. For Profiles film he
That is a painting of the very first air strike I
witnessed. It was a frightening experience because the F-4 delivering
the weapon had a napalm bomb explode on his wing and I thought we'd
lost the airplane. Fortunately, he came out of the other side of the
smoke. At the time I saw this, it was vividly impressed on my mind
because my boss had taken me out to witness an air strike. It was
near sundown and I was scared to death. You can imagine experiencing
your baptism of fire—then you see something that spectacular. In
combat, you usually fight your devil, which is fear, on a personal,
lonely basis. When somebody gets killed or gets shot, it happens to
one person. If you have a lively imagination, you're constantly
contemplating the fact that you're going to stop something and you
have to live with that fear because it's not productive to voice it to
other people.
3. Separately Wilson wrote the whole story of this
painting and his first experience after he arrived after FAC U: I had
been delayed by typhoons in November 1968 so I did not graduate from
FAC-U until December 5, and it was December 11 before I was posted to
the ROK "Capital" Division that held Phu Cat, Qui Nhon and the coastal
Annamatique Alps of central Vietnam. Before I could be turned loose,
despite my careful training, I had to fly a number of missions with a
combat tactics instructor, see him work, and then put in Air Strikes
under his supervision. Thus, I was ordered to "Tigertown" west of Qui
Nhon for several weeks of intensive work. First of all, I had to learn
our area, sort out the many detailed maps, learn radio frequencies,
the many padlock combinations, new people, telephone procedures in
Korean, all while being introduced to actual combat for the first time
in my life. The naked fear on my face shown in an identification
photo of the period still frightens me. Nevertheless, about 30 Viet
Cong and NVA in black uniforms, armed and well organized had hit
hamlets near Van Canh, Dong Xuan and Dong Tre to the south and Binh
Khe to the north in lightning raids successive nights after midnight,
routed out the townspeople, executed the municipal governments, taken
rice and fled. After a week of this the Koreans had come up with a
close estimate of their base camp. They sent a U.S. Army helicopter
with sensing gear into the area they suspected, and at 2:00 p.m. on
about 16 December 1968 the helicopter reported confirmation of the
enemy's presence. They had not confirmed through their sensing
device, but by receiving ground fire. They came home, but rain
prevented further action until 16:30 when Major Norman Comfort left
with Major William Schoder (another new guy) to put in the strike. My
boss, Major Ed Garland, asked if I cared to observe, so I went with
him, and we took off in the rain from Tigertown at about 1700, with me
in the back seat, maps, carbine, code books and flack jacket all in a
mess on my lap. Of course, I became lost within five minutes of
takeoff. After driving through the rain for a while, everything began
turning pink in the sunset, and we heard Comfort pick up a Boxer
flight of F-4s on the radio and brief them for the rendezvous and
strike. Comfort had marked and the fighters had each made one pass
before Garland and I broke clear of the weather into the valley some
15 km west of Tigertown where the triangular ruins of an old French
fort from the Viet Minh days lies in a green field 20 km south of An
Nhon. The jungle was shading to purple in the twilight and the west
glowed rose in a veil of rain. Nearby the jungle burned raw with the
fresh fire from the strike and the smoke rose white and blew southwest
over the ridge. The painting faces southwest. Just as we came up, an
F-4 dropped a can of unfinned Napalm that pitched up and hit the right
wing, igniting. The bomb and airplane flew together for a second,
then the napalm flew away into the target area while the fighter
darted into the smoke of the strike, smoking and burning. I thought
he had gone in. Before I could react, I saw him out the other side of
the smoke standing almost straight up in afterburner, clean and
unharmed. Meanwhile, the fragments of the bomb rained down into the
valley and jungle. Either because they did not expect two FACs to be
on the scene or the spectacular accident panicked them, or both, the
NVA broke from the treeline where they were hiding some 300 meters
northeast of the strike and started northeast across the open area of
the next valley. They and Garland saw each other at the same time,
and they ran back into the woods while he called Comfort, who passed
the fighters to him. Then he had the F-4s strafe with 20 mm the area
that lies immediately below where the fire is brightest in the
painting. By this time it was dark and the weather moved in for
several days. Much later a sweep of the area failed to disclose
casualties, but the NVA raids in the area ceased.

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