Glass Art by Mike Byers
above:  Laos Across the River
below:  Three Ravens
Luang Prabang, Laos 1969
...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. 

                                             The Critter
                                            (A Memorial)
 
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).

Mike Byers
Raven 47

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
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.

  • Wings To Fly2:37
with AVG-style "tiger teeth" (the Soc Trang aircraft).  Joe said a couple of them just had the teeth but no eyes to go with them; these two crashed, of course.  As I remember he had to bail out of a '28 in the late 50s or early 60s in Vietnam.

When I got checked out in the '28 in 1969, I got about five hours:  one flight to learn the aircraft, a trip to the range and a check ride.  I never had A -1 or a checklist, but I knew how to start the engine and arm the rockets, guns etc. and the rest was just "turn the shiny switches on, leave the rusty ones off."  But it had come to my attention that the landing speeds used at Udorn would not hack it for 20A.  At the speed I was taught to land, you would hit the "vertical arresting gear" at 20A for sure.  When I asked the Udorn instructors about this, they didn't know what to say, as they weren't allowed to land at 20A.  Too dangerous.

So when I got close enough to 20A I got Potter on the radio for an instant "landing lesson."  No sweat, he says, just keep your power up and come in with full flaps at about 105 knots.  When you want to touch down, open the canopy.  Worked like a charm.

Joe Potter died many years ago, but he's not forgotten, that's for sure.  Guy could fly a '28 like nobody's business and was a great liar, too.  Standing outside the Raven hooch in the fog one morning with Joe when one of the mechanics, a new guy who had just arrived, walked by.  Potter says, "Yeah, reminds me of Normandy."  "Jeez, Mister Potter," says the mechanic, "Were you at D-day?"  Cracked me up.


And one more Potter story:  We're coming up on the arming area at Udorn, Potter in the front seat and me in the back, taking a re-built '28 back to 20A.  Hotter than hell, of course and there's four F-4s in the arming area ahead of us. We're sweating like a couple of pigs. Potter says, "Hold the brakes" and I do, while he unstraps and stands up in his seat.  He starts waving his arms at the F-4s and making the "cut engines" sign.  And sure enough, the F-4 guys shut down; they figured somebody must be on fire or something.  It gets real quiet on the ramp and Potter yells, "Hey, kid!  Your prop fell off."  And we taxi by them and take off, leaving the F-4 guys sitting there in the heat, looking for a start cart.  Damn, that was fun...

Mike Byers
http://bailiffs-hollow.blogspot.com
www.reverbnation.com/mikebyers47


 

Instructors from Det.1 56 SOW (aka "The A Team") at Udorn, Thailand on their way to a rare mission in Laos in December, 1969.


Photograph and story by Mike Byers
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!
MIKE BYERS RAVEN 47

T-28 Trojan Foundation

Mike Byers Raven 47
Helen Murphy © 2009-2017 All Rights Reserved
Longtiene, 1969

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.

Mike Byers
1974