Glass Art by Mike Byers
above: Laos Across the River
below: Three Ravens
Helen Murphy © 2009-2019 All Rights Reserved
Soc Trang T-28 Photograph by William Verebely
Joe Potter was the site commander at 20A when I was there; he was the only guy I ever heard about who quit Air America and joined the USAF. He showed up for his first day and reported to Heinie wearing an America hat. Pretty funny, I think, but evidently the USAF types didn't see the humor. Joe had flown '28s in Vietnam; had a lot of time in the machine and could really fly it. I recall him telling me about the aircraft they had that were painted
They didn't have the range to do more than fly to the Plain of Jars, make one or two passes and head home. They're loaded with Mk 82 bombs with fuse extenders and M1A4 cluster bombs. Note the lack of markings: the U-shaped frame about halfway back on the fuselage was designed to hold quick-change insignia, but this didn't work as the plate with the insignia would fall out on a bomb or strafe pass and sometimes hit the horizontal stabilizer. These appear to be AT28D-5s, with the Yankee tractor rocket system. We (the Ravens) stole a few of these D-5 models from Det. 1, as we were were using C models with no tractor rocket seats and, believe it or not, no VHF capability. You had to carry a hand-held VHF radio to talk to the ground troops; not a good situation. So we swiped some -5s from Det.1; stole 'em right off the ramp and nobody was the wiser until somebody actually counted Det 1's assets. I got a message at 20A asking if I'd ever seen tail numbers so-and-so, and of course replied "no". LMAO!
While doing penance on the shitter for swilling whiskey, gin and bitter
I heard exclaimed from down the hall, “Fred’s got a critter! Hasten all!”
So up I jumped and quickly blotted; swiftly up the stairs I trotted.
And there I saw to my distress, Fred Platt himself in foul congress
With such a beast so rare and weird; all armor-bodied, -tailed and -eared,
And wrapped about him was its tail: a sight to make a strong man quail!
What was this thing now in our house? T’was sure no tiger, bear nor mouse
Had ever such a scaly hide as that which on Fred’s arm did ride.
And as I pondered at this sight, there came to me a sudden light,
And thereupon the thought was hatched that Fred and Critter truly matched!
With Jewish FAC and unclean beast, what awful force would be released
Upon the hapless NVA? This pair would blow their shit away!
And so, in fact, it came to be; The Critter flew each wild sortie
With fixed, unblinking armored eye he calmly steered Fred through the sky.
The Critter flew without rebuke, for unlike some he’d never puke.
While Navy poges may claim this doom, The Critter shot down Colonel Tomb.*
Alas, The Critter had to fall, to something that can claim us all.
T’was “Mother’s Ruin” did him in: a tiny sip of Bombay Gin.
The Critter’s gone and time has fled, but we’ll not yet forget the dead.
A fighting hero of the sky; a varmit who just lived to fly!
And though he failed his final test (the olive would have served him best),
He baffled scientist and Frog, this son of tank and temple dog.
A pangolin he was, I think; another Raven downed by drink.
And when I fly my final pass, I’ll join on Manidae Magnetass!
*Colonel Tomb was the leading North Vietnamese ace (actually shot down by
Randy Cunningham, a Navy F-4 pilot).
The first day, I remember
Grey fog and wet, green karst;
With strangers' mail in two red sacks
Standing on a silent ramp.
And later, in a shadowed house
They talked, with fire and scotch
Of women, towns and battles I had never seen.
I flew with them;
And laughed and fought and feared
With men made quickly brothers
By a war we never thought to win.
Fools and heros in that place,
But most were simply men
Whose names are gone from me
In smoke and flame,
Like fired rockets.
...The Critter was actually Cavanaugh’s find, but of course Fred Platt claimed to have found the beast.
Unfortunately for The Critter, he (or she, it’s hard to tell) dipped a snout into a Martini, took a drink and keeled over dead. Shortly after the book (The Ravens by Christopher Robbins) was published, I wrote this bit. I sent it to Fred, but he didn’t like it. Chris did, and whenever he got a letter from a reader pointing out that The Critter was a pangolin, he’d send them a copy of this.
Mike wrote "Wings to Fly" to honor his fellow Ravens and all those that lost their lives during the Secret War in Laos. Sung by Nicky Rood.