Christmas Day, 1968 was just another day for MACV-SOG Spike Team Idaho. Early that morning ST Idaho was loaded onto Kingbees and flown to the Quang Tri launch site.

That day’s target was one of the MA targets west of the DMZ in Laos, along the river that ran through the DMZ. In the briefing room there was a large map with all of the DMZ targets and all of the MA targets in Laos. Maps of the target area that we carried to the field were just small sections of the larger maps, the theory being that if captured, the small map was useless to the enemy.

On the target map, there were a series of MA targets, MA-10 through MA-16 or 18. The smaller numbers, MA-10 and MA-11, were the first target areas directly west of the South Vietnamese border. Our MA target was a larger number and thus, farther into Laos, near an area where NVA fuel lines were reported to be under construction. The NVA needed fuel to move its trucks and men down the Ho Chi Minh Trail Complex and it was more efficient to have a pipeline, instead of individual trucks, moving the gasoline south.

As we looked at the map, we noticed a disturbing trend: there were more anti-aircraft weapons cropping up throughout the AO. The launch site staff was vigilant in warning the helicopter pilots and Covey about any new 37mm or 12.7mm sites in the AO. More than once, the Kingbee pilots would point out a location where they had come under fire from NVA gunners. Because of the increase in anti-aircraft batteries along the DMZ and MA targets, the Kingbee pilots said they would fly straight to the LZ along the nap-of-the-earth. There would be no auto-rotation, downward spiral insertions into the LZ today.

Fresh in our memories was the Nov. 30, 1968 incident where NVA anti-aircraft fire downed a Kingbee heading into Laos on an Eldest Son. That loss of seven Green Berets and an entire Kingbee crew of three men was still vivid in our minds. The briefing officers also warned us about reports of NVA sappers being in the area. Spike teams from Kontum had made contact with NVA sappers at least once in the last year.

Finally, it was time to saddle up. The lead Kingbee pilot, Captain Tuong, said he would carry the entire spike team on his H-34, as the weather conditions and height of the mountains allowed the old chopper enough lift to carry us. At the briefing we were told that Covey had found an LZ in a remote valley with no enemy activity. The hope was that the LZ’s remoteness meant less chance for the NVA to have watchers on the LZ or enemy trackers in the surrounding area.

As we boarded the chopper, I felt good about the men on ST Idaho: Lynne Black had joined Bubba Shore and me. Both were fearless but not reckless, smart and smart-mouthed. Phuoc was our point man, Hiep our interpreter and Tuan was our M-79 man. I had been on ST Idaho seven months and I was the senior American on the team. I still viewed myself as a green kid in-country and yet the wear and tear of running targets made me feel that I was much older than 22. I still wondered if I’d see my 23rd birthday, now 25 days away.

In our favor was the fact that we had one of the best-damned Kingbee pilots in the 219th Vietnamese Air Force, Captain Tuong. His nerves of steel and amazing flying skills made him one of the most respected Kingbee pilots in the C&C project. I was optimistic about the chances to have a good mission, especially if Covey had found a remote LZ. As we headed west, flying parallel with the DMZ river, Captain Tuong followed the briefing officer’s suggested route of approach. Shortly before we crossed the border into Laos, the door gunner test fired his ancient .30 caliber air-cooled machine gun. It misfired several times before a round finally exploded from the barrel. Those old machine guns misfired as often as they fired. I always wondered why they didn’t replace them with a 7.62mm M-60 or a .50 caliber machine gun.