Day We Lost Lee Lue
by Kham Manivanh
Date was: 12 July 1969
Positions at Xieng Det.
It was a nice clear day only few broken cloud lingering to
burn off after the rainy night, I was coming down from RON
at L-54 (Louangprabang) alone, just when I contacted
LS-20A tower for landing Chaophakhao Lee Lue’s flight of
three were depart L-08 (Vientiane) and asked me if I want
to joint them to kill some AAA, of course I would not refused
and asked for his position and target area.
"Chaophakhao Red, Chaophakhao Lee Lue"
"Red, go ahead"
"I got some AAA target, want to joint us"
"What’s your position and target"
"Passing the dam heading to Xieng Det"
"Okay proceed over 20A I will arm and joint you as # 4"
Evidently I just flew by couple of miles west of Xieng Det, since I was not armed I didn’t pay much attention and scanned the area and hardly notice anything unusual. I request 20A tower to relay my message to ground armament crews to get my ordinance ready for 2/500 lb., 2/250 lb. And 2/7 rockets pot set at single for immediate loading with out refueling and my 50 cal. ammo was already load from L-54, as I landed and taxi in 2 MJ1 with the bombs were awaiting, it took less than 3 minutes to load and arm my plane as the crew chief came up check the oil while I remain in cockpit. I got thumb up from the crews and cranked up request
immediate take off, as I was airborne I got Lee Lue flight in sight south of the field.
"Chaophakhao Lee Lue I get you in sight proceed to target"
As I climbed and try to catch them up we reach the target area which was less than ten minutes and I still can’t get in to the position, I learned that Gen. Vang Pao (V.P. as we all knew) himself was the Ground FAC and caution us for the 2 AAA positions of twin ZPU (Double barrels 14.5 mm with the rate of 1,600 rounds per minute very accurate and deadly for prop driven aircraft)
"Chaophakhao from White Star (V.P. call sign) did you see the target"
"I got the target, I see them and gonna get them" reply Lee Lue with confident and excitement.
"Chaophakhao lead from 4 can you make one circle I still too far out" As usual Lee Lue never waits when he got the target.
"One in hot"
As Lee Lue rolled in he was greeted with everything they had,
Lee Lue lined up his bombing run to get both guns on the same
pass I was closing in but still lower than them.
"Two in hot" follow # 2 in different heading.
As I watch Lee Lue release his bombs and pulled up, the first one hit the damned gun right on but his second bomb was about ten meters short I got a sudden strange feeling and follow Lee Lue’s pattern when he pulled up I saw at least 4 tracers hit his plane from nose to tail, his plane went straight up trailing white smoke instead of normal left pattern, I yelled out.
"Lue you got hit, bailed out, bailed out now"
"Lee Lue Head South and bail out" followed V.P. on the radio. We never get reply from him.
"Lue you on fire bail out, bail out"
I yelled out again when his plane caught fire but he never replied and his plane start banking right when the speed bleed off from climbing. In the state of shock # 2 Vang Sue drop all the bombs and went back to LS-20A without communicating. # 3 Somnuk (Lang) hold high dry now Lee Lue’s plane was on right turn and diving toward my direction, I make hard right cut him off to check out, while cross under him at close range I notice Lee Lue’s head was slummed forward to the dash and his backseater Lor Neng (Another V.P. relative just barely graduated from Udorn and on his 6th observation flight, his next flight would be in the front seat as I will be his check out pilot) was leaned back with his head leaning to one side and I can see red fluid splashed all over the canopy possibly their blood and hydraulic fluid, I known then they both gone from direct hit, as I follow his plane down I heard V.P. calling out his name and crying. "Lee Lue, Lee Lue!….." I could not talk and swallow a big lump as I pulled up and bank left to look at the huge ball flame when his plane struck the ridge just a few hundreds yards from the hill crest where V.P. was commanding, I pulled up circling the crashed site and felt wet on my cheeks, I didn’t know since when I’d cried. I notice the enemies firing red flare for their victory; of course they had monitored on the radio and known whom they brought down. After several circling and gained altitude I got back to myself, in my mind the only thing I can think of was get the bloody gun at any cost "Revenge, revenge, revenge" the only word that ring my ears.
"Chaophakhao 2, 3 from 4"
I search for the other 2 Chaophakhao, no respond from # 2
"Chaophakhao 3 up here"
"Damned it! Give your position" (I was pissed and
scanned the horizon for # 3)
"About 3 miles southeast of Muong Soui"
"You still have the target"
"Okay you take the lead and stay tight"
As soon as we got in their range they start firing with every thing hope for more victory, # 3 drop all the bomb at early stage in order to stay clear of gun fire and fear for his safety, his bombs fell far short of the target, I followed in overhead on top of the gun and rolled in. "4 in hot" As I dove in almost vertical I can see and feel those tracers grazing by at deadly range. I ignored them bring the cross hair on the gun steady flame, as I released the bomb I hit # 3 prop wash, I knew my bomb would missed I eased back the cross hair over the flame again and release the 2/500 lb. and follow by the last 250 lb. all in single pass hope for the best, I pulled up hard and bank left to stay inside the silent cone (The bloody AAA can’t shoot straight up) when I look back over my shoulder my 1st bomb was slightly short but the 2/500 lb. were right on and blew the damned bloody gun spinning up in the air, the last bomb wasn’t bad at all when it hit ammo stockpile which created a big secondary explosion.
"Kham Phoui be careful son, I don’t want to loose you too"- V.P. voice blaring in the radio (Until now V.P. still call me Kham Phoui instead of Kham Phiou)
"I’ve got them White Star, I got the bloody gun"
# 3 kind of reluctant so I went in hot again.
"4 in hot last pass, 3 cover me"
As I came down on the last pass strafing and firing all of my 14 rockets, one rocket struck another ammo stockpile again follow by secondary explosion which startled # 3 as he yelled out on the radio.
"OH ! Shit - they still have more gun, let’s get out of here"
"Okay 3 RTB"
As I pulled out of the target heading back to the crash site make a low pass follow by an aileron roll to
declare my successful revenge and gave them the last salute. I notice that ground troops were advancing to the site to secure and extricated both pilots later, the plane was disintegrated on impact now only the smoldering fire over the engine area billowing up column of smoke and V.P. chopper was lifting off head back to LS-20A. When I landed at LS-20A and shut down V.P. chopper was settling down in front of the tower, as I got off my plane I saw V.P. got off the chopper and walking toward me, I walk to him he was weeping, put his arm around my shoulder and mumbling: "Lee Lue’s dead, Lee Lue’s dead…."
I could not speak and emotion, my tears pouring down, I could not see just strolling with him toward the head
quarter (V.P. house which located less than hundred yards from the runway) we all gather there mourning the loss of our two pilots. My crew chief report to me later my plane did picked up several small arm ground fired bullet holes but none of the AAA. The next three days were declare - no fly - by V.P. to commemorate "Lee Lue" one of our best Fighter Pilots, a great Warrior and true Hero considering V.P. right hand man, and this was a big lost for V.P. and all of us. Lee Lue had a great personality, very smart, always have broad smile and grinning face, nice and kind to everybody and willing to help when some body have whatever problem, but fierce, deadly and merciless for the enemies especially NVA and PL.
I known Lee Lue when he took T-28 training at Udorn, and flew with him from the very first day he earned his
wing when I checked him out in real combat, I admired Lee Lue of his intelligent and fast learning (Lee Lue had teacher background, known Xieng Khouang and Samneua territory so well, he never look at the map and still know and get to the target) Lee Lue admired my skill and experiences we did have many things in common, Lee Lue had earned my trust and we love to fly in the same flight for the dangerous and difficult missions especially when dueling with AAA and caves bombing.
Since most of the time we were working in the Hmong ground troops territory it was easier and faster to let
Lee Lue handle the communication in Hmong language, beside his unorthodox flying manners Lee Lue ranked among the top and best combat pilots. Many times RLAF high ranking or senior officers want to take disciplinary actions and grounded him, I had to remind them that Lee Lue belong to MRII and I didn’t think that V.P. like to see his best or any fighter pilot grounded, so Lee Lue became the untouchable and got special promoted so often he outranked most of the RLAF pilots and officers. Lee Lue last rank was Major and promoted to Lt. Colonel as his funeral.
Now, thirty year had gone by but that mission or the actual scene still clear in my mind like it was just
happen (another word like instant replay or rerun) many thing I forgot but this was UNFORGETTABLE.
Kham Phiou Manivanh, CPK Red
Royal Lao Air Force
When I graduated from Udorn on T-28 May 66 when back to Savannakheth or L-39 which was the main base for RLAF T-28s working out of there until Gen. Ma unsuccessful coup, then recuperated those T-28s from Udorn and when up to LP (L-54) base there for 2 years and later cover both Vientiane and LP until early 70 cover largely MR-II and MR-V during the 68-70 and during the Infamous Muong Soui over ran, my Call Sign was Chaophakhao Red, I was joint up with Lee Lue flight of 3 as # 4 when he was shot down at Xieng Det, and I got that bloody gun that downed Lee Lue my best friend.
I was base at Vientiane most of my trash hauler time from late 70 until after the war end. Early 71 when I was PIC for AC-47 my first call sign was Spooky 77 but that coincided with the E-Squawk, so I change to Spooky-13 if you might recall, I covered most of the MR-II and MR-V area and sometime had to go up north to LP or down to L-11 when needed (when it got hotter or their A/C down for repair or phase) Since I was single it's more convenient than others who had family tied up, took up Squadron Commander when the Seniors left for Office Staff and rarely fly.
Trained on C-123K when AA ready to US bound also hold the Transport Squad Comm. until the PL took over. Still fly and serve my belove Country, but the PL didn't seem to like or appreciated my Air Commando ways of flight too much and send me to reeducation camp in Ban Ban area. After spending my time in HELL for 3 years 2 months 2 weeks and 4 days (man remember those days damn well) I had enough and decide to made a daring daylight escape, successfully with 2 other friends, one was a H-34 Chopper Pilot another Military Police, we show up at Nong Khai 2 days after escape.
Both my friends get settled down in US before me, I was stuck at NK for 20 months and Jerry "Hog" Daniel came to my rescue and I was settled down in S. California 2 weeks before 81 Christmas. Still regret didn't have a chance to meet Jerry again after I left Thailand. (editor's note: by war's end Kham had flown 3000 combat missions).
Kham Phiou Manivanh
Chaophakhao Red and Spooky-13.
T-28, C/AC-47, C-123K Pilot RLAF
Helen Murphy © 2009-2016 All Rights Reserved
by Kham Manivanh
(edited by a previous publisher)
My bailout occurred on April 6, 1966, during my training days at Udorn. While I was on my solo flight, my T-28 developed a rough engine. I tried to nurse it back to T-08 but the darn bird gave up 15 miles east of T-08 and forced me to abandon it. I was at 4,500 feet when I bailed out. My weight was not more than 100 pounds and it took forever to reach the ground (close to 10 minutes). In the history of the Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF), I was the fifth pilot to bail out of a T-28 and the first one to succeed and survive. The other four guys before me did not have such luck.
The funny part was that I did not know how to turn the parachute around and the wind was blowing me away from the rice paddies towards the jungle, which I did not want to happen. I tried to pull on the cords on the
front side but it accelerated me forward, so I pulled the cords at the back and it swung me back to the rice field. My plane hit the ground in a big ball of fire more than two miles away, burning up all the gas, leaving only the engine still burning (probably the oil) with me still hanging in the air only half way to the ground.
As I got close to my landing point I noticed all the villagers from Savang Daendin, with about 50 kids, were watching. Eventually I made a really smooth touch down and landed in a standing position. I still wonder how
I did that, since it was my first and only jump. Now the problem was that my chute was down and the wind was dragging me. I had to run after the chute, but luckily all those kids jumped on the chute and saved me.
While I was surrounded by the villagers and the kids, an elderly man introduced himself as the village chief or Pho Ban and invited me to his house, which was just next to the rice paddy. By the time we got to the house one police officer and three policemen had arrived in a pickup truck to guard me. The head of the village gave me an unexpected impromptu Baci (tied my wrist with white cotton thread and wished me luck and health) and told his wife to bring out the food. But I was still too excited about my survival and could only drink some water.
The police officer offered to escort me back to Udorn Air Force Base and I told him that I had already radioed the tower before I bailed out. If, however, there was no response and no rescue I would let them take me
back to Udorn. It kind of amazed them when they asked for my age and I told them I had just become 18 four days ago.
By that time I heard some airplanes screaming overhead, so I said we needed to go out to the rice field, because they were looking for me. Most of the planes saw my burning wrecked plane but failed to see me under their nose. First, a pair of F-4s passed over the wreckage and headed to Udorn. Then another pair did the same thing. Then came my classmates and their instructors. A flight of two was circling the crash site.
A few minutes later another pair did the same thing and failed to see me just over two miles away. I told the police and the villagers to build a fire and put wet or green grass on it to make some smoke. At that time we did not carry any survival kit or radio, only our checklist and maps. I told the kids to spread out the chute with the orange side up. They did it with a lot of laughter and fun. Now four A-1s arrived, made low passes and circled the crash site. One of the A-1s made a low pass from the opposite direction and headed toward us and saw the smoke. He dipped down to our position, pulled up and rocked his wings. I stood by the chute holding my helmet and waved at him. Then the rest made low passes over me and headed back to Udorn.
Less than five minutes from the time the first A-1 saw me I heard the very familiar sound of the HH-43 Pedro. I had seen them take off and chase wounded birds on the runway all the time during run up and waiting for
take off. It came over just above tree top and landed in the field. Again the kids had to jump on the chute when the downwash kicked it up. Two of the rescue crews jumped off the ramp. One ran to the chute to collect it while the other ran to pick me up. He put me on his shoulder and ran up the ramp. I had to slap his back and tell him to put me down, because I wanted to go back and thank the village chief and the police. As I bowed and prayed before the Chief to thank him I could see his tears running down and he wished me “Good luck sonny.”
I turned to the police, saluted, then shook their hands to thank them for guarding me. Lastly, I turned to all the villagers, bowed and prayed, and waved goodbye. As I turned back to the Pedro the rescue guy was right behind me all the time.
After a short hop we landed in front of the Tower. Major Bill Cox, my instructor who was duty officer that day, and other I/Ps, were waiting with the rest of my class. He put me on his shoulder and ran around the
chopper three times before putting me down. We got back to Det-1 Operations and briefing room for my
debrief. Only then did I learn that General Thao Ma, RLAF Commander, was on his way from Savannakhet, or L-39, to congratulate me on my success.
That experience made me and the other RLAF pilots more confident about bailing out and trusting the chute. All in all, thanks to the “PEDRO” and the rescue crews for quick reaction and their readiness. After that incident we were issued radios, pen gun flares, a smoke grenade, a reflector mirror and a red/orange signal panel. My I/P gave me an extra battery and told me to eat more (to put on more weight) and told me that if it had happened in enemy territory I would have been a “Floating Duck.”