Ravens of Long Tieng

In the remote highlands of Laos, U.S. Air Force pilots fought a secret war

During the Vietnam War the air base at Long Tieng was a hub of Air America, Air commando, and Raven forard air control operations. (University of Texas-Dallas History of Aviation Collection)
Air & Space Magazine

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Platt saw Pathet Lao troops coming over a hill, a half-mile away. When his backseater refused to move, Platt slung him over his shoulder and carried him, along with a machine gun, radio, map case, M-79 grenade launcher, and a bandolier of shells, as he dashed behind an earthen bank nearby.

While a full-scale search-and-rescue operation was being organized, Dave Anckleberg, the pilot of an Air America helicopter, heard what was going on and rushed to the scene. Platt had been on the ground for 30 minutes using his grenade launcher to keep the enemy at bay when he heard rotors. He saw Anckleberg's chopper settling down just behind his position. Platt dragged the backseater to the helo, giving him a boost into the cargo bay, then hopped aboard with some help from the crew chief.

Platt's nose was broken, his knees were badly bruised, and he had a spinal compression and a broken neck with seven hairline fractures. Back at Long Tieng that same night, he partied hard, then woke the next morning paralyzed. Raven Mike Byers folded Platt into the back seat of an O-1 and flew him to Udorn Air Base in Thailand. Thus began years of slow recuperation to regain the use of his arms and legs. To this day, he walks gingerly and is never without pain. His Lao backseater never flew again, preferring to return to the infantry.

By March 1969, another backseater, Moua Fong, had flown hundreds of missions with both Ravens and Lao T-28 pilots. While over the target area one day, the O-1 he was riding in came under heavy attack from ground fire. "The plane got shot through many times," he recalls. "I took a round in the right leg, below the knee." The pilot trimmed the plane, then helped stem the loss of blood. The O-1 began leaking fuel and the plane turned toward Sam Thong, Laos. On final approach, the engine quit. "The pilot dead-sticked the plane to a hard landing, and I was taken to the hospital."

Mike Cavanaugh flew with a favorite backseater the pilots named Scar, a second lieutenant about fifty years old. "He was very good on the radio. Scar would talk something like this: 'Many, many enemy to the north, many, many enemy to the south.' He wouldn't show you on a map; he would point. I couldn't see a damn thing; I knew he couldn't either, but he was convinced the enemy was there. I got to [where I] believed Scar. Many times he hit the jackpot and we did kill 'many, many enemy.' "

As each rainy season cleared, the Pathet Lao gained strength. Between 1967 and 1973, the United States became more willing to attack Laos in a decidedly uncovert manner, including B-52 raids. The amount of ordnance dropped on Laos surpassed the tonnage the Allies dropped in Europe during World War II. Conventional bombs equivalent to the destructive power of 20 Hiroshima-type weapons fell on tiny Laos each year. And still the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao poured south.

Raven John Wisniewski arrived in Long Tieng in late 1971. On his first flight in Laos he was struck by the rugged beauty of the mountains. As his O-1 approached the fabled Plain of Jars, he expected a breathtaking view. Instead, he came upon a moonscape. "Everything was bombed out," he says. "Everything was worked over with bombs."

The North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao continued to advance, and by late 1972 the Ravens were directing air support for three separate areas in the Laotian panhandle alone, not to mention for the continuing fight in the north, in the Plain of Jars, and all along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Hal Mischler, who was finishing his tour and had already shipped his effects home, was moved to Pakse in the south. A massive air campaign had begun against North Vietnam--Nixon's Christmas bombing--so no fighter-bombers were available for Laos.

On the morning of December 23, the town of Saravane near Pakse was under siege. Mischler took to the air in an O-1 with a backseater to help defend the town by himself. He dipped low trying to draw ground fire to locate the enemy position--"trolling for guns," as the ground commander would describe it later--when the O-1 was hit by flak. Flames licked their way into the cockpit. The backseater escaped the inferno by jumping from the plane, only to be cut in half on a brick wall. Mischler rode the plane in. His body was recovered by the friendlies at Saravane and flown back to Pakse. The next day, an A-7 clipped a wing strut on a Raven O-1. The pilot, Paul V. "Skip" Jackson, spun to his death, becoming the last Raven to make the supreme sacrifice.


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