ARE YOU A HERO
Mike Whorton, Nail 30
Are You A Hero?
It was mid-1971. I was stationed at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (NKP) as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) flying OV-10s, call sign Nail 30. I’d just returned from a typical 4+ hour combat mission over the Ho Chi Mein Trail in Laos. After the flights an Intelligence Officer would debrief you by asking a series of questions about the flight. The debriefing usually didn’t take long. As I finished, I noticed a young pilot friend being debriefed on the other side of the room. Two Intel guys were talking to him, leaning forward and writing furiously. They were soon joined by our Squadron Commander (CO) and another Squadron leader. They all huddled around the table talking and I walked over and listened. The pilot had found what appeared to be a lucrative target. It was a POL (fuel, etc.) storage area with pipelines running out in various directions and a number of storage bunkers. He had found it late in the day, too late to get fighter bombers sent into the area. The group was discussing what to do next.
The pilot suggested that they work on a “first light” strike, but told them, “They know they’ve been sighted and they’ll be moving things tonight, but there’s too much for them to get it all out. It’ll still be a great target if we go early in the morning”. The CO said, “We’ll start planning now, get things lined up and be there at dawn”. The pilot said, “Sir, you need to know, the site is really heavily defended. I’ve been flying this Trail for a while and I’ve never seen anything defended like that. When they realized I’d spotted them, they all opened up. I was just lucky to get out without taking a hit. It’s going to be very dangerous and I don’t look forward to going back in there.” The CO touched his shoulder and said, “You did your work today. You found that target. Someone else will go in the morning”. The young pilot dropped his head for a moment and then said, “Sir, that “someone else” would be one of my friends, one of the guys that I fly with. Right now, I know the target and its defenses better than anyone. I have a better chance of working the strike successfully and getting in and out alive than any of my buddies would. I am going to do it”. And he did.
Such actions are “heroic”, but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. I was busy flying my own missions. I don’t know the success of the mission. I do know that he got in and out OK. I’m not aware if he received an award, or even a pat on the back, for that mission and his selfless, courageous actions. You see, such actions were commonplace among FACs in the Vietnam War and were often ignored or just accepted. After almost 50 years I can’t even remember his name, but I remember his actions and how, later on, they affected me.
After I came back from Vietnam and mentioned being a FAC, I was asked a few times, “Are you, or do you think you are, a “Hero”, sometimes just a question or sometimes asked with a sneer. I first just said “No” and walked away. Then I sat down with a glass of wine, on my back porch and thought about it. The above incident kept coming into my thoughts and I developed a better response. When asked after that I said, “No, I’m not. But I have walked and talked and flown with heroes and some of them call me “friend”. I take great pride in that.”
And that is one of the reasons that I am proud of having been a FAC and of being a part of such a brave and courageous group of flying, fighting men. Salute!
Mike Whorton, Nail 30
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