VIETNAM WAR

Recollections of a Đà Nàng K-9 Handler, 1965-66
© 2008 by Don Jones, LM 446
366th SPS, Đà Nàng AB, 1965-66

A1C Don Jones, in ton and half truck


3/25/2008
Recollections of a Đà Nàng K-9 Handler, 1965-66
by Don Jones,
366th SPS, Đà Nàng AB, 1965-1966

K-9 posts in combat zones are perilous for K-9 Teams in all military services.  U. S. Air Force K-9 posts at Đà Nàng AB in 1965-66 included several runway posts, bomb storage area, and napalm storage area, the Vietnamese Morgue along the Marine perimeter, an isolated and remote munitions bunker and other strategic locations.  Every post had its own perils, even the seemingly secure runway posts.

One of the first things K-9 Handlers learn about runway posts is to avoid walking along the runway.  Silhouetted against the flight line and runway lights, the Handler’s location is revealed, as well as his becoming an excellent target.  The farther from the runway the K-9 Team is, the better its concealment.  Someone breaking the runway lights can be seen several thousand feet away by a K-9 Team and could be perceived as a security threat.  At Đà Nàng in 1965, that person might be Air Police Commander, LTC Arthur G. Phillips Jr., on an exercise to penetrate your K-9 post, or it might be a Viet Cong on the same mission.  Either way, if you missed him, you would wish you hadn’t.  K-9 senses are at their best when the Handler team is isolated and concealed by darkness.  Concealment was critical at Đà Nàng, but when the night was suddenly lit up with flares due to a threat, the only option for concealment might be lying flat on the ground or in the mud during the monsoon season. 

Jet afterburner noise was another reason to stay away from the runway if you were to have any hearing left.  At
Đà Nàng AB in 1965, K-9 Handlers were not allowed to wear earplugs.  Jet afterburner noise was also a big problem for the K-9’s hearing.

Runway posts are hazardous because aircraft tend to crash a lot in combat zones, for various reasons.  In 1965-1966 Đà Nàng AB was one of the busiest airports in the world with combat missions taking off almost continuously around the clock.  Aircraft landed every day with in-flight emergencies caused by bullets, flack damage, hung bombs, mechanical problems or injured crew.  The tower would advise K-9 teams by radio of incoming aircraft emergencies so we could move as far back from the runway as possible for our own safety.  Aircraft would also unexpectedly crash on takeoff creating a dangerous situation for nearby K-9 teams.  The most tragic and frightening aircraft crash I have ever seen happened on Jan 12, 1966 when a B-57 Canberra tactical bomber crashed on takeoff with a full load of wing and bombay ordnance and 20 mm cannon rounds.  Tragically, both the pilot and co-pilot were killed by the explosion of a 500 pound bomb during that crash.  That crash is documented by my good friend and fellow K-9 Handler Don Poss (Webmaster of Vietnam Security Police Association, Inc.), who also witnessed the crash.  In Don Poss’ article, “B57 Canberra Mayday…Mayday….” Don reveals details of the crash and his communications with the pilots family members years later.

At Đà Nàng, even traveling to post could be dangerous at times.  One night during the monsoon season, we were on the back of the K-9 truck on our way to post.  We were following a flatbed truck loaded with bombs that was traveling around the end of the flight line.  The road was muddy, full of deep ruts and barely drivable.  Our driver could hardly see the ordnance truck ahead of us in the heavy monsoon rains.  All of a sudden, the truck hit a big bump.  As I looked out the back of the truck, I saw that we had just run over a 250 lb bomb that had rolled off the flat bed truck ahead of us. 

Sometimes K-9 Teams created their own perils.  On the runway posts, K-9 Teams were dropped off in two groups, one group on each end of the runway.  After getting clearance from the tower, we would cross the runway and then fan out to our assigned posts.  The sacred rule, for safety reasons, was never to cross the runway without clearance from the tower.  As our K-9 staffing increased along with the VC threats, we began working overlapping shifts.  The early K-9 shift worked 6pm–2am and the late shift worked 10 pm-6 am.  That gave the Air Base overlapping K-9 coverage during the dreaded hours of 10pm-2am.

K-9 Handlers, being the notoriously independent people they are, did not always follow the sacred rule about crossing the runway.  K-9 Handlers who got off at 2 am were in a hurry to get back to their Huts and get a couple of hours of sleep before they had to get up at daylight to work rebuilding the kennels.  So, being in a hurry to get off post, we would sometimes cross the runway without waiting for clearance from the tower.  There is no thrill like being half way across a runway at the 1,000-foot marker and hearing the twin afterburners of an F-4 Phantom kick in and seeing the jet headed directly for you.  It’s amazing how fast a K-9 Handler can run with an M16 in one hand, a K-9 leash in the other, and a web belt loaded with a 38 Special, lots of bullets, a flare, canteen, knife, radio and rain gear.

A similar scene would sometimes happen at the other end of the runway.  Incoming aircraft at Đà Nàng would usually land at night without lights for ground fire avoidance on their approach to the Air Base.  With no lights as points of reference, and with little noise on their glide path coming in, judging a planes distance away at night was almost impossible.  The second biggest thrill in an unauthorized runway crossing is looking up to see an F-4 Phantom, F-8 Crusader or maybe a C130 coming down over you.  If our old SP Commander LTC Arthur G. Phillips Jr. is still out there, I never broke that rule, Sir!

Finally, I guess the worst of all perils is the wrath of an angry K-9 Handler.  As my good friends Gary Knutson, Herb Norfolk, Byron Martin, Don Poss, and Paul Giulaini may recall, I probably hold the Đà Nàng Air Base record for getting the K-9 truck stuck in the mud in the monsoon season taking K-9 Teams to and from post.  I think I’d rather face a Cong with an AK-47 than face an angry K-9 Handler getting off post late.  My belated apologies to my fellow K-9 Handles for those long delays in the rain, in the middle of the night, while we waited to get our K-9 truck towed out of the mud.  On second thought, since I’m now out of shooting range from you guys; guess what -- I just did it for fun!

Don Jones,
Đà Nàng K-9, 1965-66
K-9 King’s BIO


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