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Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975

Det Prov.3 PARC

Provisional Detachment 3 Pacific Air Rescue Center, USAF
As it was in the beginning

By Leonard Fialko and Ken Franzel

Reprinted with permission of Pedro News:


Steve Mock - Editor

First from Len: The 36 ARsq (we were the Air Rescue Service/Squadron in those days) provided two pilots to augment the 33 ARSq HH-43B unit at Naha, Okinawa. I came from Det 1, 36ARSq at Misawa, Japan and Lt Kenneth C. Franzel came from Det 4, 36ARsq, which I believe was Osan, Korea. The medical technicians for the crew were provided by the Base Hospital at Naha. We were the first rescue helicopters sent to Southeast Asia and the only Americans at NKP.

I arrived at Naha on June 15, 1964. The next two days were spent preparing the two aircraft for air shipment and assembling mobility gear. We arrived at NKP on June 17. Some of us went to Udorn to assemble the aircraft. A T-28 unit of American advisors were stationed there and provided quarters and facilities for us. We flew the aircraft back to NKP on 21 June.

I remember the living and operating conditions best. We had always had support units which provided meals, quarters and specialized maintenance. NKP was, when we arrived, just a PSP runway.


There were three tin roofed huts and an outhouse, which the SeaBees left when they built the runway. Someone had dumped some cases of C rations, some bunks and 55 gal drums of JP-4 on the ramp. We were on our own for everything else.


Shortly after we arrived, two communications NCOs were sent to set up a mobile radio station. This was our only link to the rest of the world. All traffic had to be manually coded and decoded, so we learned to use words sparingly. Operational control was provided by the Command Post at Saigon. Administrative support was provided from Bangkok.

No one in the unit had any combat experience [from WWII or the Korean War], nor did we receive any briefing on what to expect. We did a lot of guessing and hoped the bad guys were as dumb as we were. Fortunately, we had no rescue missions while I was there.


We did, however, make some modifications to the aircraft. Much of the area we were to cover was at the maximum range of the HH-43 and at high altitude. We removed all doors for weight and carried 2 - 55 gal drums of JP-4 in a wood rack in the cabin. I believe we intended to land and hand pump the fuel into the aircraft tank. We also traded for two BAR's which we mounted on ropes firing aft from the cabin.


We were replaced by another TDY crew in the middle of [August?] I believe they were from the States, and they stayed until a PCS crew arrived.

The only other name that I can remember is then-Captain Michael C. Tennery. He stayed a month or so longer than I did and came from Naha."

Next, Ken Franzel's recollections: Happy to see some recognition of Air Rescue and the HH-43B's in the early days of the Southeast Asia conflict.

My part in Air Rescue in SEA actually began when I was assigned to Det 4, 36 ARS in Osan, Korea. In April 1964 I had just arrived when Det 4 was tasked to provide a pilot for the H-19 unit in Itazuke , Japan. Since I had H-19 experience and was not checked out in Korea, I was the one selected.

After a month or more in Japan, Itazuke closed down and I was to return to Osan. However, Det 4 had now been tasked to send an HH-43B pilot to the 33 ARS at Naha AB Okinawa. I was already TDY again so I was selected for this trip. From this point my orders were only verbal orders of the commander (VOCO).

Upon arrival in Naha, I checked into the BOQ and had a message waiting for me from the squadron commander (I think Col. Dyberg was the 33rd CO but am not sure). The note said "don't unpack, we're moving out". The squadron had a meeting that evening and as I remember was not told more than that we were going to SEA. The move of course was classified and kept as quiet as possible.

An aside - a couple of interesting incidents as we were prepared for what, we knew not? During briefing a list of personal items required for the deployment was read. One item was the radiation dosimeter (the cold war item for detecting an individual's radiation exposure). I raised my hand and said I didn't have one. The briefer (who was not being deployed) took his off from around his neck, tossed it to me and said "now you can go". Another item was the issue of weapons. Aircrews were issued the 38 revolver and shoulder holster and all were issued the AR-15. The only AR-15s on base had arrived for the APs. These were transferred to the 33rd and in turn to us. The AR-15s were still in plastic bags with the factory operating manual. None of us had ever seen one before!.

The teardown of the HH-43Bs started that night. It must have been at least 24 hours later when the C-130s were loaded and ready to go.

We first landed at DaNang AB to refuel, etc. DaNang at the time had a rotation squadron of F-100s sitting out in the open on the ramp.

The only difference from an ordinary base, other than the old buildings, was the sight of everyone armed all the time. The C-130 made a steep approach into DaNang and a tactical takeoff in order to avoid the possibility of ground fire.

After a short flight over jungle terrain our C-130 made a short field landing on a PSP runway, which turned out to be Nakhon Phanom. Welcome to Naked Fanny! 6000 ft. of PSP runway, a PSP ramp and a couple of old Thai-occupied metal buildings left over from when the USN SeaBees constructed the base sometime earlier.

The C-130 crew would not shut down the engines for offload as they were unsure of the security of the airfield. On the ramp were stacks of metal cots, mattresses, bedding, C rations and 55 gallon drums of JP-4. That was the beginning! We offloaded except for the helicopters and some of the pilots went back onboard for the flight to Udorn. As I remember one C-130 with helicopters and mechanics had gone directly from DaNang to Udorn to off-load and begin assembly of the HH-43s.

Leaving a skeleton crew composed of a couple of pilots, the unit CO and mostly medics behind the other pilots including myself and mechanics left for Udorn. Note: we started out with medics, not PJs.


When we arrived at Udorn the other C-130 had been offloaded. We off-loaded the pieces, etc., from our C-130 and it departed. Udorn was a busy Air America- CIA installation with much better facilities than NKP. A push was on for us to have the 43s ready to cover a mission the next day.

This was not to be as the mechanics had already had little sleep since the teardown began. It was evident we had to have more time. After the mechanics had tried for two hours to put one blade attaching bolt in place (normally a few minute job) we had to call it a day.

In the meantime the Air America pilots told us to do something with the 43 paint job. We had been deployed into a combat situation with silver and day-glo orange paint.



(Another indication a lot of people, including our unit, was really not aware of what we were getting into). Air America gave me 5 gallons of OD (olive drab) paint and some brushes. We at least got rid of the day-glo.

After assembling the 43s and test flying them we took off on a dark night, with virtually no aids other than a compass, across the jungle, low level, for NKP. While we were assembling the 43s in Udorn the 1st MOB had arrived at NKP. The 1st MOB combat communications SOG 17 team from Clark AFB in the Philippines had continuous back to back 6 month TDY duty.   USAF SOG support from MACTHAI.  They had a vehicle with a rotating beacon on top. This we used as guidance as we neared NKP. With our arrival "Rescue 2" was born. Rescue 1 was a Marine chopper unit which was based at DaNang but stayed daily near the North-South border.

Our mission early on was to cover US Navy flights over Laos, primarily the PDJ (Plain of Jars).


It readily became apparent that we were ill prepared for combat operations; the day-glo paint was only the beginning. We developed flying tactics consisting of flying two 43s in formation, in clouds as much as possible to reduce visual contact by ground forces. Perhaps one of the best known early problems was the hoist cable length of 100 ft. In a jungle of 300 ft. trees the hoist was useless. This was solved by adding 150 ft. of rope with a weight and collar onto the cable. A weight was necessary as the rope would fly around in the rotor was without it. Now with hover in the treetops we could reach ground but it was still necessary to leave the victim hanging 150 ft. below while flying to a safe landing are. It was still difficult for the flight mechanic/hoist operator to thread the collar through the jungle growth. The forest penetrator was later developed to reduce the problem. The 43s had no armor plate or protection of any kind for either the crew or critical aircraft components.  

(FE)SSGt Chuck Severns wearing Flack Suit

We did have WW II vintage flak vests and hip protectors. The hip protectors were folded and placed under the seat cushions; the vest was worn over a T shirt, with locally custom made fatigue pants (individually purchased). Flight suits were unbearably hot. Helmets were bright white (good targets) which one by one were getting hand-painted black or green. The 43 was also not armed. This was partially solved by each crew member carrying his AR-15 and 38 aboard. In a trading deal with a classified unit in the area (I'm still not sure who they were) we were able to trade a case of insect repellent for a case of hand grenades, two BARs (Browning Automatic Rifle) and ammo. The grenades were to drop from the 43 by putting the grenade in a glass jar (after pulling the pin) and dropping from a safe altitude. The BAR was tied in the 43 with ropes (clamshell doors were removed). There was of course nothing to keep one from shooting the tail off!

(PJ) Dan Gaulde with BAR

The operating range of the 43 was always a problem, however, since our original task was covering Laos operations. We had Air America establish secure fuel stashes at LIMA Sites for our use. As the mission expanded to North Vietnam the concept evolved for carrying 55 gallon drums on skids inside the 43 and feeding directly into the fuel system. As a drum was emptied it was pushed out the rear of the aircraft. This was developed after my departure.

Mission control was somewhat confusing. The 1st MOB unit monitored ongoing missions listening for code words indicating aircraft downed or bailouts. We were monitoring with 1st MOB so we were alerted at the same time. An airborne HU-16 then was to take over rescue control in conjunction with JSARC (Joint Service Air Rescue Center) in Saigon. Politics did get involved in mission control especially an initial requirement for JSARC approval prior to crossing a border

[a mission delay of hours or days could result]. The HU-16 not only provided control but was our source of mail and personal supplies. We would put in a BX order with Center or HU-16 by radio then on their next mission they would drop our order in with a spotter chute.


Back to the facilities: The first few days we spent living under an open shed. We then took over a couple of the former SeaBee's metal buildings which had been Thai occupied. One we used for officer barracks, the other for enlisted. A field kitchen was sent in after weeks of C rations.


An outside shower was built using 55 gallon drums (solar water heating). Drinking water was brought in from NKP, treated and tested by our medics. Latrine facilities were field outhouse type.

After some time of this type of living we were able to contract for quarters in NKP. The quarters were known as The Civilized Motel and were not much of an improvement but at least it had running water and no, or at least fewer, snakes and scorpions. It was later learned that the motel was supposedly operated by North Vietnamese VC sympathizers.

We had many of our original group return for later SEA assignments. Two of these that I know of, a Sgt Black and one of our pilots, were captured on later assignments. Sgt. Black was a POW for 6+ years and I think the pilot for 5+ years. Our CO's first name was Dave and he was a captain. He kept a daily log at NKP which would really help the NKP story.

Forward to 1968 - I (Morse) clearly recall the attitude of a number of the troops about NKP. Not too complimentary, but it sure beat 1964! The PSP runway was still there when I arrived in June 1968 but was replaced during the dry season. No big deal for the Jollys, but the others appreciated the change.

A final footnote - During my second tour (May 71-72), after the HH-53C's of the 40ARRSq had moved from Udorn to NKP, the Pedro's returned - to support the F-4's on strip alert at NKP.

DetProv.3 Nakon Phanom RTAFB 20 Jun-16 Nov 1964

DetCO (P) Capt. Robert W. Davis 33ARS

(P) Capt Lucian A. Gunter III 33ARS

(P) Capt Leonard Fialko [augment from DET1 36ARS Misawa AB, JP]

(P) 1Lt Michael C. Tennery 33ARS

(P) 1Lt Kenneth Franzel [augment from DET4 36ARS Osan AB, ROK]

NCOIC (FE) SSGt Albert B. Parker 33ARS

(FE) SSGt Charles D. Severns 33ARS

(FE) A1C Fred D. Scott 33ARS

(FE) SSGt James W. Burns [augment 31 ARS Clark AB, ROP]

(EM) SSGt John Willcox Jr. 33ARS

(MT) SSGt David H. Blouin [51st USAF Dispensary]

(MT) SSGt Donald L. Watson [51st USAF Dispensary]

(MT) A1C David C. Black [51st USAF Dispensary]

(MT) A1C Morris Johnson Jr. [51st USAF Dispensary]

The Zorros