TRACER BULLET BLIZZARD LEAVES ORANGE TRACKS OFF PLANE WING
OVER DONG HA, VIETNAM &ndash Bathed in a passing patch of sunlight, the target area looks almost friendly. But a blizzard of tracer bullets makes orange tracks 30 feet from the starboard wing.
The green earth rolls lazily as Capt. Pham Mhoc Ha banks his piston-engine Skyraider toward a pair of dark vehicles at the roadside. They grow bigger: tanks.
"No sweat," he had said before the flight. "I have been shot down four times before. No sweat."
But now respiration beads on Ha's forehead. The drop run down as the concussion of a ton of bombs shakes the old plane and Ha starts a sharp pullout.
On his second run, Ha attacks from a diferent direction. All noises grow louder. Radio transmissions go highpitched and garbled like a pair of bluejays squabbling.
On pullout, the air controller reports Ha has destroyed one tank and his wingman the other. Ha grins.
Approaching Da Nang on the way home he does a slow victory roll. But at about the time back over Dong Ha, the commanding officer of Ha's squadron gets an engine full of bullets. The pilot rides his flaming Skyraider south for a few miles until he reaches friendly territory and bails out.
"Did you ever hear of a captured South Vietnamese pilots?" an American officer explains later when asked why the officer didn't bail out immediately.
South Vietnamese pilots are nursing along a slowly dwindling number of Skyraiders. The single-engine craft strain up with huge load of bombs under the murky overcast that supersonic jets cannot penetrate.
"They started producing Skyraiders in 1945, the year I was born," Ha said before the mission. He was born a little north of Hanoi and flied southward 20 year ago.
He has a shark-gray flight suit. a magenta scarf and a stock of American slang picked up during training in Florida and Texas.
He has been flying in combat almost every day since 1966, earning less than $50 a month.
"I love to fly." he said, apparently feeling no further explanation was necessary.
"The AAA (anti-aircarft artillery) scared me," he said, "but I forget about it when I go for the tank.
(The Anderson Herald News Paper &ndash Tuesday, Arpil 4, 1972)