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Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975

The Zorros

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1966 - 1968
Original Zorros T-28 Drivers
 
Text by Felix "Sam" Sambogna
 
1968 - 1970
22nd Special Operations Squadron Zorros
 
Text & Pictures: George Domenici, SGT. 22nd SOS 68-69

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AT-28 at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Airbase 1967

Zorros – The Original AT-28 Group

 

Most of us who became the first group of Zorros were in jet operations, i.e., fighter or training units. I was an instructor in Air Training Command. Having applied for any fighter to go to VN, I was surprised and confused when I received orders to report to Hurlburt Field, FL for AT-28 training. In 1966 Hurlburt was a lovely little base and training site for many of the prop aircraft that were to perform so well in SEA.

While in the short training program we learned we were part of a program named "Lucky Tiger" and our destination was NKP, Thailand. The powers to be kept it super secret and the regular jocks didn’t know what it was all about. We just wanted a shot at some type of combat operations. Our initial group also included Huey helicopter and C-123 crews and civic action folks. In June 1966, we were loaded on a C-130 at Hurlburt with NKP as our destination and no overnight stays included. A very long and boring flight and quite uncomfortable as we had a max load of passengers. After several stops at the islands in the Pacific to change the C-130 aircrew in compliance with crew rest criteria, we finally landed on the PSP runway at NKP.   

On the ramp there were a few O-1’s and C-123s. Where were our AT-28s? We finally found out that they were on a ship enroute to Bangkok. What a disappointment! A bunch of pilots and no aircraft presents a miserable situation. Our leaders seemed confused, our pilots were angry, and life was temporarily not very good. Well, some of the folks that trained in the AT-28 just before our group was sent to Udorn for Project Waterpump. They had a group of AT-28s for that training program that involved many air commandos over several years. We convinced our leaders that we should be permitted to go to Udorn and fly Waterpump aircraft to stay current and out of trouble.

Finally, our aircraft arrived in Bangkok. A couple of us were placed on functional test orders and flew the required test hops before ferrying the aircraft to NKP. There was still confusion as to what our mission really was. It all cleared up when then Colonel Aderholt became the commander of our wing, the 56th ACW. We immediately started attacking trucks on the Ho Chi Minh trail along with the A-26 crews who had arrived at NKP. In addition, we sent mobile training teams to Ubon, Udorn, Ching Mai, and Lopburi to train Thai AT-28 units in night flying and air-to-ground operations.

The trail work was exciting and challenging in a total night operation. As one can imagine, Colonel Aderholt was "gung ho" and proud of the "truck count" that we accomplished. He frequently informed the senior officers of the success of the A-26 and AT-28 on the trail. Whether or not this operation was a success and had a significant impact is for someone else to determine. We killed many trucks, lost some great guys doing it, and that was our mission. It seemed to make more sense to attack the trucks massed up north rather than wait for them to hit the trail. But that was not our call.

We had to develop our own tactics. We quickly learned that the 50-cal. machine gun was the most effective weapon while attacking at low altitude in the mountainous terrain. In ‘66, our search/attack team of an O-1 spotter and an AT-28 attack plane was most effective. A back-seat crewmember in the O-1 with a starlight scope could spot the trucks and drop the initial flare for the attack. If additional light was needed, we drop flares from the AT-28 and also called for the ever present C-123 or C-130 flare ship.

Members of this initial group of AT-28 pilots at NKP included: Joe Price (Squadron Commander), Jerry Nohe*, James Dunn, Boyd Squires*, John Westphal, Don Arbuckle*, Kermit Hale*, Mike Brown, Bill Cogdell*, Bob Govan*, Jack O’Neal*, David Williams*, Tom Deken*, Bill Newton*, and the author of this article. If some names are left out blame it on a senior moment.

* - deceased

NKP continued to grow and many other pilots carried on the AT-28 Zorro mission. When I visited NKP in the early 70s, the base had grown significantly and contained many operations. The AT-28s were replaced by A-1s.

The Zorros were a great bunch of fighter guys who learned to love the AT-28. To this day I still don’t know who came up with the cool call sign of Zorro. It was so appropriate for our mission.

Felix "Sam" Sambogna

Zorro

 

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                    Zorros - 22nd Special Operations Squadron

          1968 - 1970

Our unit was operational for two years flying close air support and direct air support in support of missions within Laos.  Our plane was the venerable A1 Skyraider. At first there were only six Skyraiders within the unit and as I was one of the first assigned we were very busy accomplishing eight missions per night.  As the first aircraft returned we topped off the fuel tanks, checked the oil and repaired and discrepanceis the pilot had written in the log book.  My assignment was running the Maintenace truck and getting the aircraft back into operational status.

The main mission of the 22nd Special Operations Squadron was of course interdiction of the supplies, equipment and personnel traveling the Ho Chi Mein Trail in Laos.  Our AIE were fitted with Starlight cameras to take pictures without additional lighting at night and the AIE's of course were a two seater aircraft making them perfect for a camera man.

SGT George Domenici

22nd Special Ops Squadron

 


 

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56th Air Commando Wing