by Mark Persons
in Mohawker Newsletter
A U. S. Army
Mohawk high-tech surveillance aircraft in Vietnam 1969.
The Ken Burnsí Vietnam War series on PBS brought back many memories of my time in Vietnam. From that, I learned history facts, many of which were only recently revealed. It is amazing how our country was pulled into the war without an exit strategy.
Vietnam was almost 50 years ago, but the memories are still etched in my brain. I am not saying it was all bad, but I awake every morning thinking of Vietnam as it was back then. No, I donít have the slightest interest in returning to that God forsaken place.
As a member of the American Legion, VFW and DAV, I am proud of my service to our country. An American flag flies outside our home, lit at night. My thoughts on the Vietnam experience were expressed in an article I wrote for the Mohawker back in 2008. Let me retell that with a few additions.
The memories are in me every day even though Vietnam was a long time ago and a long way away. I was probably two years older than most enlisted men serving in the U. S. Army 1966 and 1969. Fort Monmouth, NJ, prepared me to repair AN MPQ-4 and MPQ-10 Weapon Support Radar. As an SP4, I taught electronic component level troubleshooting and repair. At that time, I also knew something about aircraft and aircraft radios because I had an Amateur Radio license and my father was a private pilot with an instrument rating. He flew a Cessna 172 with me aboard, in the second seat, on many trips. Dad was also a Major in the U. S. Army Signal Corps in WWII, developing radar.
For oversees duty, I was not deployed with a unit. Instead, I was a replacement. My arrival in Vietnam was by airplane at night. It was probably Bien Hoa Airbase, near Saigon. All the aircraft lights were turned off for fear of a mortar or rocket attack. We GIís stumbled around the dark before being taken away by bus. Some welcome to Vietnam! The next day was my 21st birthday and there was really no one to celebrate it with. I sat on a pile of sandbags wondering what this world was coming to. It wasnít until a day or two later that I arrived at the 73rd Aviation Company at Vung Tau. Things started looking up as I was introduced around to members of the avionics maintenance unit. Before long, I was working as much as 12 hours a day repairing radios and pulling guard duty.
Later I became Sergeant in Charge of the avionics repair shop. For those of you who were not there, the shop was in two back to back semi-trailers, parked across a road from the hangars. Yes, it was near the perimeter wire. Who chose that location?
We were all young and handsome back then. Traveling half way across the world was just another life experience. What I liked about Vietnam was the Army attitude to let us do what needed to be done without the hassle of marching drills and other nonsense that we had been doing stateside. The tropical climate was certainly different from life in Wisconsin. I remember many times being soaked to the skin by rain, then dry in an hourÖat least as dry as anyone can be in a tropical climate.
What was this ugly airplane, the OV-1 Mohawk, that I was working on? It was made by the "Grumman Iron Works" and could not have been more unusual. I never saw one before and NEVER expected to see one again in civilian life. Well, it wormed its way into my heart.
Mine was the day shift. I remember Hawks taking off and landing in the middle of the night while I was trying to sleep. Most Hawks returned to go out again. Some did not. One in particular almost didnít make it back. That Hawk just barely landed with two huge holes, about three feet behind the pilotís seat. They were large enough to put an arm through. The entrance hole wasnít too bad, but the enemy round went square through a two-inch diameter electrical wiring-bundle before exiting on the top of the aircraft. What a mess. Lucky it returned to base. Others came back with small caliber holes through avionics boxes.
To this day, I have nightmare dreams about Mohawks over hostile territory. I wasnít my job to be in the air, but knowing servicemen were risking their lives to do missions in harms way is a chilling reminder of how dangerous it was.
I did R&R in Japan just to see what the Japanese people were doing to make them an industrial nation. They started by selling televisions and stereo radios to the world. I found Japanese very regimented, like the military. This attitude led them to be extremely cruel to Allied prisoners during WWII. I was glad to return to my duties at the 73rd , to "keep the Mohawks flying." I didnít have many friends, just a mission to keep Mohawks in the air.
Life in the 73rd was living in a third-world country. The drinking water tasted awful and anti-malaria pills made me sick. Warm beer helped some. At least I avoided malaria. The music of the 1960s was great and still is. Pit toilets and cold showers were better than what some soldiers had to put up with. The rainy monsoon season came and went as did a lot of good people. I was just a small cog in a big wheel.
Some Australian solders came through the 73rd one day just to look around. They had kangaroos painted on their trucks. Those Austies had an interesting accent in their voices too. They were there to help keep Vietnam from falling to Communism.
When my year in-country was up, I remember leaving Vietnam on a plane filled with soldiers. A big cheer erupted shortly after takeoff. There was a stop at an island. I think it was Wake, then a flight to California for mustering out. It wasnít a pretty sight at the San Francisco airport as I was leaving. War protesters had a "hate" for soldiers when it should have been a welcome back for those who served this country. On a flight to Minneapolis, I was the last one aboard a commercial airline and was given a first-class seat on a military stand-by ticket. All I wanted was two Aspirin for a terrible headache. Passengers shook me awake at the destination. No first class drinks for me that day!
I spent the next ten years wondering what happened. No one back in the world wanted to talk about the war. It took a while to integrate back into society while memories of Vietnam and the Mohawk lingered.
The subject of serving was never brought up in conversation. One of my co-workers was a veteran and it took fifteen years before we made the connection. Fortunately that has changed for soldiers nowadays.
In 1998, there was an air show in Brainerd, MN. I was totally shocked and amazed to see an OV-1 Mohawk parked for visitors to inspect. Well, one thing led to another and soon I was a member of the Mohawk Association and have attended three reunions since. At one of them, I came across Bill Anderson who was the observer on the flight that took the battle damage behind the pilot. We had drinks, dinner and shared the memory. Neither of us could remember the pilotís name.
Interestingly, there was an air show in Duluth, MN, in July of 2006. As you might suspect, I spent most of my time standing next to and admiring a Mohawk. No less than six people asked me what this "strange airplane" is. Somehow the look in my eyes led them to understand that I knew the answers. Well, this was my chance to tell the story of the OV-1 Mohawk while trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, not to shed a tear in the process.
One of the cities I worked in until recently is Wadena, MN. There is a modest housing development on the south side of town with a Mohawk Street. I frequently went out of my way just to drive through and remember my days with the Mohawk. The street is not paved, but has a nicely maintained gravel surface that a Mohawk could land and takeoff from in wartime on an IR or SLAR mission. Going east to west and with a westerly wind, it is just long enough and wide enough to be negotiated by a skilled pilot. I am glad to report seeing more than one American flag proudly flying there for everyone to admire. Thanks to military training, I shave every day and still have a short haircut.
Yes, the OV-1 Mohawk will always be a part of me. Most of the rest of the world doesnít have a clue about the mission of this war bird. I, and the others who served with this gallant aircraft, know its job was very important. All that in spite of its ugly-duckling appearance.
Maybe your memories are different. My goal was to keep the Mohawks flying no-matter-what in that distant place and time. God bless America.
Editorís note: Mark Persons, Mohawk
Association member number 888, is now a 70 year old recently retired
radio broadcast engineer, living in Brainerd, MN, with his wife Paula.
Photos from 1968 and 1969
Learn more about the OV-1 Mohawk Association at: http://www.ov-1mohawkassociation.org/
Questions? Email Mark Persons: firstname.lastname@example.org
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