I just discovered a friend got killed in Viet Nam. While doing a search for a good photo of a T-28 for yesterday’s blog post, near the top of the Wikipedia article was the mention that the first attack-type American aircraft shot down in the Viet Nam war was a T-28 piloted by Lt. Hoa.
“The T-28 Trojan was the first US fixed wing attack aircraft (non-transport type) lost in South Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. Capt. Robert L. Simpson, USAF, Detachment 2A, 1st Air Commando Group, and Lt. Hoa, SVNAF, were shot down by ground fire on August 28, 1962 while flying Close Air Support (CAS). Neither crewman survived.”
It had to be my old classmate whom all of us other student pilots called Hi Ho. He was an exchange student in my flight class, 59-H. He was from Viet Nam, and the only exchange student in my immediate class, but there were a couple of German exchange students in another part of our class, who I didn’t know, and a Turkish one, Lukvut Acktimer (unknown spelling), who was my personal friend.
As things turned out Hi Ho had tangential but very real impact on how my life developed. The critical event with Hi Ho happened about a month after the events in yesterday’s post, John Chard, a hero of Rorke’s Drift and me. In the intervening month I had been transferred from flying T-28’s at Malden Air Base, in Malden, Missouri, to flying T-33 jets at Laredo Air Force Base in Laredo, Texas.
Flying airplanes was surprisingly attuned to my native abilities, (spelling English words has been sacrificed and is near nonexistent). I was the first in my class to solo in T-34s, T-28s and T-33s. My instructor in T-33s was Lt. Noyes and we got along very well and he rated me highly, but because of my excellent performance and the certainty that I would do well in flight school I was chosen to be swapped with Hi Ho, who was doing poorly. Perhaps he was having a language problem, or possibly it was that he wasn’t getting along with his instructor who had been a combat pilot in Korea. I don’t know, but perhaps that was causing a conflict. In any case we were swapped and Captain Hammond became my flight instructor.
Captain Hammond was a fine man in every way, but I was by temperament a liberal intellectual and he was much more a play-it-by-the-rules kind of guy. There was never a single word of conflict between us, but we both knew it was there. Also, there was on my record my little encounter with J. Robert Oppenheimer, a possible Communist, and thus my being directly in conflict with Senator Joe McCarthy, which may have bothered Captain Hammond. In any case we struggled along doing our respective jobs until the last week of flight school when I was unexpectedly moved to another instructor pilot.
Unknown to me, Hammond had rated me dead last in the whole of Laredo’s approximately 100 student pilots in officer effectiveness. That was a bit strange because I had the very top scores, or very near the top, in every other thing we were rated on, such as academic scores, physical fitness etc.. In fact I had skewed the scores so much that those near the bottom were in real risk of sliding off the bottom of the rigidly fixed curve and thus being eliminated from flight school. Because of that I was feared and hated by some of the other student pilots. Had I known how well I was doing I would have intentionally brought my scores down a little so everyone else could have done better. Even with the dead last rating by Captain Hammond I was still number six in our total class score.
Unfortunately, for me there were only five fighter pilot assignments and because of the way of the assignment system was designed I was sent to SAC to fly B-47 bombers. But first … I was sent to Stead Air Force base for six weeks of Survival Training where I got top score. I’m not bragging so much as saying I was doing very well in that Air Force setting, but got off on a wrong track because of Captain Hammond, and I was with him because of Hi Ho. Perhaps they did me a big favor because Hi Ho was killed about a year after we graduated, and I had found my way to my home of the next fifty years, Berkeley, California. I still struggle to make the world a better place and our country more resilient. My life totally changed direction when I was expected to use H-bombs when told to do so. That just wasn’t my goal in life, and I have spent the intervening years trying to make the world better and safer, to the exclusion of making money or prestige. So in a very strange way Hi Ho and I swapping instructor pilots fifty-four years ago affected both our lives profoundly.
Sometimes a seeming bad thing turns out to be good or the reverse. There is no replay so it is impossible to know. We just live as best we can.