An Arc Light Story

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

I was flying around the Thuong Duc area while a Special Forces team was going into a location west of their camp to do a BDA of B-52 strikes. Thuong Duc had been under siege by the NVA for several days and B-52s had bombed extensively in the hills to the west.
The team was about three hours out of camp when they walked into an NVA machine gun. The makeup of the team could have come out of a movie. The team leader was a First Lieutenant on his first patrol. The only other American on the team was an old experienced Sergeant. Everyone else was Vietnamese. The Sergeant was leading the patrol and was hit by machine gun fire. He was dropped in the trail and the Lieutenant couldn’t get to him, because of the enemy gun. All the Vietnamese took off, leaving the Lieutenant alone with a downed man.
The camp called me and told me that the team was in contact with the enemy and the Sergeant was wounded. I was south of a river and the team was on a 2,500 foot ridge north of the river. I was too low to fly directly to him, so I started to climb and tried to raise him on the radio. He was afraid to talk because the enemy was so close and I couldn’t get him to tell me where he was. The camp commander could see him through binoculars from the camp and started yelling at him over the radio to start talking to me, that the enemy already knew where he was so he wasn’t giving his position away by talking to me.
During this time, I heard, but didn’t pay much attention to, a warning for “Heavy Artillery” (B-52 airstrike) in the vicinity of where I was flying. The Lieutenant finally started talking to me and I turned to fly toward his position when I felt the airplane shudder like I was flying through some turbulence. Suddenly the whole world beneath me and in front of me blew up. I had climbed to about 3,500 feet by this time and I was flying directly into the area where the B-52s were bombing. The turbulence I felt was caused by the bombs dropping past my airplane. The bomb pattern marched directly toward the Lieutenant’s position, but stopped about 800 meters from him. I’m sure he thought the bombs were going to run right across the river and into his position, and he stopped talking again. I started screaming over the radio to shut off the next flight of B-52s, and was told that they couldn’t do that. I told them in no uncertain terms to do it and surprisingly, they did.
The short version of the conclusion is that we were able to get a medevac helicopter in and get the team out.