Friday, May 29, 2015

Raven FAC

A U.S. Air Force Cessna 0-1E Bird Dog aircraft (s/n 56-4200) in flight over Vietnam in 1967.
One of the folks who hangs out here at Le Chant from time to time is a former Phantom Phlyer and raconteur extraordinaire Virgil Xenophon.

I first "met" Virgil over at Lex's place. He's been around the block, flown fast jets over the "friendly" skies of Southeast Asia and lived to tell about it.

Not everyone who flew there lived to tell about it. The other day, Juvat was remembering and Virgil had this to say -
Lots of names, but the one that stands out for me--a courageous pilot and good friend--Sam Deichelmann, Capt, USAF, (RAVEN 47) MIA, SVN, 6 Sept '68. (Ironically, Sam was never downed in Laos, the most dangerous part of his tour, but, but during a "vacation" trip to see his brother at Bien Hoa (where he was flying F-4s) Sam was then to wend his way up the coast for an end-of-tour party an old friend--a Prairie Fire FAC--and I were throwing him at Da Nang before he returned to his base in Laos.

(I believe Sam has finally been declared KIA and promoted to Major posthumously due to his time in MIA status.)

PS: His brother was later killed in a mid-air refueling accident. The sons of an AF Maj General, all three (and their Mother) are interred at Arlington--with a memorial headstone for Sam.

Upon further reflection, it's funny how the dots are sometimes connected. I first met Sam in summer of '65 at Lockbourne AFB, Columbus OH where I was attending AFROTC "summer camp." Lockbourne was a SAC base with KC-135s and C-130s. Sam was a 1st/Lt 130 right-seater--met him at the O-Club--he was both a man's man and a ladies man all rolled into one. We stayed in touch, where he eventually proceeded me to SEA where he became a C-123 "Blind-Bat" AC. in Laos before he became an O-1 RAVEN FAC. He found out I was at Da Nang thru a mutual friend, an O-4 Prairie Fire FAC who staged out of Da Nang, but worked exclusively in Laos. Sam managed to get over to Da Nang a couple of times for 2-day FAC "coordinating conferences." (LOL) so I got to know him well if only briefly. He went MIA leaving Bien Hoa after seeing his brother on an "end of tour" trip which was to have included a trip to Da Nang for a party the Prairie Fire types were throwing him. Such is life... a helluva guy--one of a kind. The RAVEN site has a special page for him as does Arlington.
Juvat suggested this story might make a good post. I thought so too.

Meet Major Samuel Mackall Deichelmann, USAF -

(Source)

His Dad, Major General Matthew Kemp Deichelmann, USAF -

(Source)

And his brother, Captain Stephen Travis Deichelmann, USAF -

(Source)

Before we go further, what's a FAC? Well (as you might suspect), FAC is an acronym which stands for Forward Air Controller. These guys flew in small, light aircraft which could loiter over a battlefield at slow speeds to help direct CAS (Close Air Support) for troops in contact on the ground. The fighter bombers of the time were just too fast to spot targets on the ground in the hilly jungle of Vietnam without endangering friendly troops.

Theirs' was a dangerous job indeed, ground fire and terrain were always waiting to bring down their small birds. Trying to coordinate troop locations on the ground --friendly and enemy--, direct air strikes, operate the radio and fly the aircraft kept a fellow busy! These men were special individuals with nerves of steel.

Rather than paraphrase what Wikipedia has to say about the Raven FACs, I'll just quote that source at length. It jibes with other sources I've read on the program and will suffice:
As tactical air strikes began to be used in Laos, it became apparent that for the safety of noncombatants, some means of control was necessary. Beginning at least as early as July 1964, the absence of a close air support control system caused a variety of enterprising individuals to improvise procedures for marking bombing targets. At various times, ground markers (including bamboo arrows) and dropped smoke grenades were used. While some of these individuals had military training, such as the American Army Attaché, others had little or no specialized training in close air support. They varied in nationality, being Thai, Lao, or Hmong, as well as American. Both Continental Air Services, Inc and Air America pilots would sometimes serve as ad hoc forward air controllers.

To begin an operation of great secrecy, the U. S. Air Force originally forwarded four sergeants from Combat Control Teams in 1963. These sergeants turned in their uniforms and military identification and were supplied with false identification so they could work in civilian clothing. This process was designed to preserve the fiction of American non-involvement dubbed plausible deniability. Once "civilianized", the Butterflies flew in the right (co-pilot's) seat in Air America Helio Couriers and Pilatus Porters. They were often accompanied by a Lao or Thai interpreter in the back seat. The Air Commando sergeants directed the air strikes according to U. S. Air Force doctrine, using the radio call sign Butterfly.

Two of the Butterfly Air Force combat controllers were Master Sergeant Charlie Jones, soon joined by Technical Sergeant James J. Stanford. Another of the Butterflies was Major John J. Garrity, Jr., who in future would spend several years as the éminence grise of the American Embassy to Laos. They, and their successors, ran air strikes without notice or objection until General William Momyer discovered that enlisted men were in charge of air strikes; at that point, he ordered their replacement with rated fighter pilots. By that time, the number of Butterflies had escalated to three pairs. Both the impromptu strike controlling and the Butterfly effort ended with General Momyer's tirade in April 1966.

Development of rules of engagement by the Embassy also threw more reliance on increased control over the in-country close air support. So did the introduction of an integrated close air support system for Southeast Asia in April 1966. Also, beginning in April 1966, part of its effort to better direct air strikes, the U. S. Air Force installed four tactical air navigation systems in Laos to guide U. S. air strikes. One of these was emplaced on a mountain top at Lima Site 85, aimed across the border at Hanoi.

A successor operation, code-named Palace Dog, began replacing this original Butterfly effort in 1966. Central Intelligence Agency agent James William Lair recommended the use of Lao interpreters flying in the rear seat of light aircraft flown by American pilots, thus establishing the Ravens. The Ravens were airborne fighter pilots in unarmed light aircraft who flew observation missions, marked enemy targets with smoke rockets, directed air strikes onto them, and observed and reported bomb damage assessment post strike. They were based in five Lao towns: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Savannakhet, and at Long Tieng on the Plain of Jars.
To put things in their geographical context -

Google Maps

Virgil mentions Prairie Fire FACs as well - 
Prairie Fire was an operation which sent MACV-SOG* units (Green Beret) into Lao. It was conducted in conjunction with the Marine Operation known as Dewey Canyon in the A Shau Valley south of Fire Base Vandergrift and south of the Rock Pile and Camp Carroll. The area in Laos was designated Prairie Fire.  
Later, an emergency call of Prairie Fire from this area authorized all available air, sea and ground units to respond. Of course, there were no sea and ground units available in Laos. All air units were authorized and expected to respond. A Prairie Fire was called just east of the village of Xepon in early Aug, 1969 when about 2 dozen Green Beret ran into a division size NVA** force and all air units available responded. (Source)
Another good FAC story is here. You can read about Blind Bats here.

I hope that sheds some light on what Major Deichelmann's job was in Southeast Asia. Virgil was correct in his assumption that Maj Deichelmann had been declared KIA (Killed in Action) and promoted posthumously to Major. His entry at the unofficial Arlington Cemetery website is here. His brother's is here and their father's is here.

I have been searching the web of world-wideness for more information on the brother of Virgil's friend, Captain Stephen Deichelmann but information is somewhat scarce on his fate, other than he was killed in a mid-air collision with another aircraft. He has a street named for him at Nellis AFB in Nevada which lends credence to a story I read which says he was killed after his tour of duty as an F-4 Phantom pilot in Southeast Asia. The Arlington website says he was killed over Vietnam.

Their father had a long career in the military and was a graduate of West Point. His Air Force biography is here and his West Point memorial page is here.

Both boys attended Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, Alabama upon whose website they are profiled, Major Deichelmann here, Captain Deichelmann here. The major is also mentioned in a book excerpt, here.

Three men who served their country and served her well. Two paid the ultimate price. Mrs. Deichelmann outlived them all but eventually rejoined her boys at Arlington.

The FACs from the Vietnam War have their own website, pay them a visit and join me in remembering those brave men.

An O-1A over Vietnam.
(National Museum of the Air Force Photo)

An O-2A fires smoke markers at a target.
(National Museum of the Air Force Photo)

An OV-10A marks a target for a 531st TFS F-100D, 1969.
(National Museum of the Air Force Photo)
A 416th TFS F-100F Fast FAC, in 1968
(National Museum of the Air Force Photo)



* MACV-SOG = Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group, think Special Forces, or Green Beret as the source mentions.
** NVA = North Vietnamese Army

42 comments:

  1. Well done, I thought it would make a good post and it did.

    Had no idea that the first FAC's were enlisted. Very interesting.

    My sole experience in FACing was teaching upcoming FACs, (since the requirement was they were Fighter Qualified, not Fighter Rated) basic Fighter operations at LIFT. Typically, I as the "FAC" would lead the Four Ship of Strike aircraft from the front seat, So, I had to do the FAC-Fighter Briefing, whilst simultaneously leading a Four Ship with 3 brand new front seaters and also flying my jet. One arm paper hanger comes to mind. Fortunately, it wasn't a real CAS mission, just simulated and I could plan out the attacks beforehand. Coincidentally, the range we used was called Trinity. I always used the Ground Zero site as a "SAM site".

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    1. Thanks Juvat.

      Not just enlisted, note that the first one was a Master Sergeant! Just sayin'...

      (No, I didn't know that either...)

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  2. More great history Sarge, thanks! When you dig down to the operational level and take a look at what really happens at the pointy end, the stories are amazing and fantastic. That's where the patented American Military Might really happens.

    The navy had a half-dozen mixmasters at Fallon BITD, used mostly for range monitoring and some scoring and as pseudo-FAC's for the occasional C-SAR exercise. The only aircraft I ever puked in. Too much Pigs in Space the night before...

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    1. Thanks Shaun.

      You're right, you have to look at the pointy end to get the real stories.

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  3. Good post. I didn't know near as much about the Ravens as I thought I did!
    And I will gladly tip a brew in honor of Major Samuel Mackall Deichelmann
    and family.

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    1. Thanks Russ, I enjoy learning about the folks who went before.

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  4. Great post Sarge, thanks. Agree that anything from VX is almost always golden. I also first "met" Virgil at Lex's place, one of many extraordinary people from Lex's wonderful blog.

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    1. Thanks Ron.

      Virgil is a treasure, don't tell him I said that, it'll go right to his head!

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    2. Indeed! VX was and is one of the denizens of Lex's place who's "company" I thoroughly enjoyed among that august commentariat.

      Nice job on this post, OAFS!

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  5. PS. O-1 / L-19 Bird Dog. I want one.

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    1. Not to go very far or very fast, I hope.

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    2. STOL+ grass + Warbird = Fun

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    3. Lovely little birds. Can't go far, can't go fast but I'm getting to an age where that is okay.

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    4. Yeah, there's a group of O-1 guys in the area that fly in to the airport. One lives a couple of miles west of me and is always making his approach over my property. I'm jealous.

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    5. O-1 and O-2 birds are out there. I'm looking, and for the same reason as Dust.

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  6. I wonder what a fighter pilot thought of being assigned to an O1 or O2 - amazing that thy had to fly, use binoculars, and talk on the radio - and avoid being shot down. Then imagine being a Misty and doing this in an F-100.

    On the Captain's disappearance - like Glenn Miller's in an earlier war - always a mystery. But to think of those who died when they were "short".....

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    1. Good points William.

      Glenn Miller? Hhmm, gives me an idea. My Mom and Dad had a set of Glenn Miller records. I wish I knew where those were now!

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  7. I'm thinking the Hun is going to go through Dry. He's pretty early since the Bronco's mark hasn't really left the building yet. Given that the Hun's nose is pointed beyond where the rocket is going to hit, he's going to have to come around for another try. As a good friend of mine says "Photo Phorm" cause there's at least 3 aircraft in the picture.

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    1. Heh. Sure looks like a "photo op" doesn't it?

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  8. My ears were burning, so knew someone was talking about me, so here I am :) FWIW (and I had gone into his in great detail over at Lex's place, but perhaps juvat and Sarge missed it as IIRC it was prior to their joining the commentariat) I was a FAC for six months after I extended my SEA tour. Went to local in-country "Fac School" to get checked out, then back to I Corps where I briefly flew O-1s out of Quang Nigh City In southern I-Corps as a "Jake FAC" then back to DaNang attached to the DASC (Direct Air Support Center--originally I-DASC located in Vietnamese I-Corps HQ, but later "Horn Dasc" located in USMC III MAF Hq, @ Camp Horn, leaving the Vietnamese at I-Corps.) where I flew O-2s as a Lopez FAC in the southern part of the Ho-chi Minh trail where it came into I-Corps in the mountains north-east of DaNang (the "yellow brick road" we called it) I was one of only two 1st Lt FACs in I-Corps, most were Sr Capts & Majors....and lots of O-5s at DaNang directly attached to the DASC. Organizationally we were administratively attached to the 20th TASS (Tac Air Support Sq) but operationally to the DASC. We lived a pirates life in downtown DaNang at the "FAC House" an old French Officers compound @ 31 Phan Boi Chou just around the corner from the fabled Navy O-club The Stone Elephant and the MACV club (The old French Officers club) right down the street. (And as an added bonus there was a major whore house just across the street from us on the corner. :) LOTS of stories...many have to remain secret to protect the guilty. :) )

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    1. Dang! There's a major story right there Virgil,

      I had no idea you had been a FAC, that was before my time over at the Mothership.

      I imagine you have enough stories to fill a number of books. But yeah, write it all down and publish it a hundred years from now.

      Like you say, to protect the "guilty" (which usually means those who had more fun in-country than was perhaps legal).

      As Buck might have said, "Do tell..."

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    2. 20TASS rings a bell. I believe in the early 80s it was the FAC School house at Davis-Monthan. We did a lot of exchange work with them regarding the LIFT FAC course. Small World.

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    3. Virgil, Next time you get to Washington DC, you've got a beer or two coming on me.

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  9. BTW, the story of how and why I became a FAC is a story for another time, but Sarge if you want a post about an operation that garnered an O-5 C-123 driver the MOH right in my back yard in an operation I flew several sorties as an F-4 GIB in support of, hit WIKI for the story of a "Khe Sanh in reverse" about the "Battle of Kham Duc" S.F. Camp in Quang Tin Province, I-Corps, south of DaNang. in May, '68. A lengthy, but spell-binding read.

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    1. PS: There is an EXCELLENT paperback book about RAVEN FACS entitled "The Ravens" that is a MUST read.

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    2. I'm on it (the Kham Duc story)!

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    3. And (sigh) another book to read.

      Not that that's a problem, but there are so many books, so little time.

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    4. What do you want to know about Kham Duc? - www.sammcgowan.com/khamduc.html

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    5. I need to make some corrections to that site. A year ago I received copies of all of the documents related to Kham Duc. The photo I labeled as John Delmore's C-130 is probably actually Darrell Cole's airplane. A lot happened at Kham Duc that day and Joe Jackson's landing was merely a footnote. (Incidentally, there is some question as to who was actually flying the airplane that day. Jackson was getting a check ride from a Stan/Eval pilot who was far more experienced in transports than he was.)

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    6. I hope you do Sam, there's a lot of good info there.

      You're right, a lot was going on that day. To put it mildly.

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  10. Excellent post indeed! The FAC operations have always been favorites of mine, especially the guys who flew Raven and Nail flights with O-1 and O-2As and the later Misty fast FACs. Balls of steel indeed, especially because the enemy learned quickly that that "low and slow" bird was the one directing the jet bomber heat down on them, and if they could shoot down the FAC, the jets had to quit.

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  11. Excellent postings, as usual! Too many stories contained here. Seems like a lot of guys are beginning to get the credit they deserve. The sixties were rough for the military people. Harder still, in the early seventies. Our Nation has turned around in its nominal respect for those who serve. In many cases however, it is lip-service only. I just got my fifth (that's five letters!!) letter from the DVA stating that they "are still processing my application…" It's been a year now (nothing compared to most) but still aggravating.
    I did FAC training in the "blue bedroom" at Ft. Walton Beach. Fortunately, I got my slot a Davis-Monthan for upgrade to F4 before the graduation ceremony.

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    1. Heh, the "blue bedroom."

      I was at a training facility where it seemed the goal was to see how many troops they could put to sleep.

      The auditorium was known as the "master bedroom."

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    2. Knew "SAM and Major Martel who were best FACS in RSVN. I was with 20th TASS 67-68

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  12. Sam Deichlemann did not fly "C-123 Blind Bat." He was assigned to the 41st Troop Carrier Squadron at Naha AB, Okinawa and flew C-130As. Project BLIND BAT was a C-130 mission. No C-123s were involved although there was a C-123 flare mission known as CANDLESTICK. I was at Naha in the 35th and knew Captain Deichlemann and several other young pilots who volunteered for fighters and FAC duty. Incidentally, the BLIND BAT mission was a FAC mission. The official title was C-130 Airborne Command and Control/FAC Flare. The mission started in the early 1960s and continued until 1970 when B-57Gs were deployed to Thailand with special equipment. Incidentally, Captain Deichlemann's flight engineer, TSgt Ralph Lund, also died in Vietnam. He was on a C-130B that was shot down over South Vietnam in 1968. No, the first FACs was not a "master sergeant." The late Charlie Jones, a combat controller, flew some missions on A-26s but he was an Airman First Class (E-4) but there were already FACs operating in Southeast Asia and they were flying O-2s. The Army used their O-2s as artillery spotters. The FAC mission actually dates back to World War II when fighter pilots were assigned to ground duty with infantry and armored units to direct airstrikes. During the Korean War, they took to the air in T-6s and were called "Mosquito FACs." Sam Deichlemann was well known at Naha in part because he pulled several tours at Ubon on the flare mission. He had a reputation but he wasn't the only one. One Naha pilot went to fighters and flew a tour in F-105s then volunteered for A-1s but was badly burned in a crash shortly after he started flying out of NKP, Thailand.

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    1. Correction - I said O-2 when I meant to say O-1. The Army never had O-2s. They used their O-1s for artillery spotting. In reference to Charlie Jones, he was an Airman First Class when he went to Laos. He was promoted to and retired as a master sergeant in the 80s. He and I were in contact about his combat control career.

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    2. Good stuff Sam, thanks for chiming in. Let us know when you make updates to your site, I'll need to get over there and re-read it.

      When were you at Naha? I was at Kadena from '76 to '78. Worked on the 35th's jets at Kunsan when I was there from '78 to '82.

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  13. Hi all,
    Sam was a FAC flying O-1s in AT-51/22nd TASS before he was a Raven. I flew with him. I was fortunate to have a chat with his mother in the 80s.

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    1. Thanks for adding that. While they might be gone, as long as we remember them, they'll live forever.

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