Night flight over Laos
A GREAT "AIR STORY" HERE. I identify with these men in their flying machines,….trying to find a diversion from the simultaneous death
and boredom of war. If you have never been there, perhaps you cannot understand. I never met these guys, but I love them nonetheless.
With Memorial Day coming..........here's a worthy read! God Bless America!
NIGHT FLIGHT OVER LAOS
Lt Col Stanley "Butch" Swenson, USAF (Ret) Printed in the Daedalus Flyer, Spring 1999
It was 4:30 AM over North-Central Laos, February 1973. My Weapons systems Officer, Rich MaCovens and I had just completed our bombing run in our F-111A fighter. Peace talks were in progress, but we were still flying interdiction missions, trying to slow the flow of war materials into South Vietnam. Night missions were the F-111's 'forte', and this was our third mission of the week.
We checked off target with the controlling agency and began our climb to cruise altitude and return to Takhli Air Base, Thailand. It had been very dark below the overcast, but now as we pass through seventeen thousand feet, we emerged out of the lower cloud deck to find ourselves between two cloud layers. The surface of the lower deck was rippled with small hills and valleys, like looking at a white quilted mattress pad - from an altitude of two inches! The upper deck began at eighteen thousand, with its' rippling surface mirroring the lower deck. As we turned to head southwest, sitting between layers and only two days past full, was the setting moon. Its pale warm light reflected off each cloud deck, accentuating the beauty of the night.
I leveled the aircraft fifty feet above the lower deck at 480 knots, aware that rich had tuned in Radio Australia on our HF radio. The announcer was saying - "and here's another American hit song, 'American Pie'."
I looked at Rich, he looked at me, we smiled, and I smoothly advanced the throttles to full afterburner.
"A long long time ago, I can still remember-"
Our oxygen masks were off and we began quietly singing along, 550 knots and accelerating . . .
"How that music used to make me smile-"
600 knots . . .
"and I knew if I had a chance-"
650 knots . . .
"that I could help those people dance,-"
700 knots . . .
"and maybe they'd be happy for a while-"
750 knots . . .
"But February made me shiver, with every paper I'd deliver-"
800 knots . . .
"Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn't take one more step-"
850 knots . . .
"I can't remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride-"
900 knots . . .
"Something touched me deep inside-"
950 knots . . .
"The day the music died-"
1000 knots ! ! !
"and they were singing-"
I throttled back slightly to hold 1000 knots, and began to gently swing the aircraft left and right in-time with the music, clipping the top of the "hills", and sliding through the "valleys". We were now singing at the top of our lungs...
"Bye, Bye Miss American pie-"
Swing left, swing right . . .
"Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry-"
I pulled the nose up, rolled inverted and clipped the bottom of the upper deck with the belly of our aircraft...
"them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye-"
Zero 'Gs'. Then roll back upright and zoom down to the top of the lower deck.
"Singing this will be the day that I die-"
Clipping the clouds at 1000 knots...
"This'll be the day that I die-"
Throughout the song, 5 or 6 minutes, we sang and soared and marveled at the sensation of speed and the beauty of this night, leaving a trail of sonic booms across the hidden countryside. When the last - "THIS WILL BE THE DAY THAT I DIE . . .," was finished, I pulled the power back, slowed to subsonic, and crossed the border back into Thailand - back to the base, back to combat missions, back to the war.
It's now been twenty six years since that night. Wars have been lost, then won, friends and comrades have drifted away. But I've often wondered if the poor hill people of Laos, so rudely awakened by the sonic boom and roar of our jet, could have known that we were just two young men, delighting in the joy and beauty seen only by those of us who are lucky enough to fly. If I could project 30 seconds of my life on a super screen for all to see, it would be that night with the moon lying between cloud layers, and the freedom I felt "Dancing the moonlight skies on laughter silvered wings."
/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.