||366th Security Police|
|Da Nang Air Base|
|Republic of Vietnam|
Recollections of a Da Nang K-9 Handler
I guess one could safely say that all K-9 posts in combat zones are perilous. K-9 posts at Da Nang in 1965-66 included the several runway posts, the bomb dump, napalm storage area, the Vietnamese Morgue on the Marine perimeter and an isolated munitions bunker. Every post had its own perils, even the seemingly secure runway posts.
One of the first things K-9 Handlers learn about runway posts is to avoid walking along the runway. A silhouette against the flight line lights makes a perfect target, so the farther away from the runway you are, the better. Someone breaking the runway lights can be seen several thousand feet away, and would be presumed a threat. At Da Nang in 1965, that person might be Security Police Commander, Lt. Col. Phillips on an exercise to penetrate your post, or it might be a VC on the same mission. Either way, if you missed him, you were screwed. Sentry Dog's senses are at their best in isolation and when the Handler team is concealed in the dark. A good K-9 team makes a post pretty difficult to penetrate. But when the night is suddenly lit up with flares, the only option for concealment may be lying flat on the ground, or in the mud during the monsoon season.
Jet afterburner noise is another reason to stay back from the runway, if you wanted to have any hearing left. At Da Nang in 1965 K-9 Handlers were not allowed to wear earplugs.
Runways are also hazardous because planes tend to crash a lot in combat zones. Planes landed daily with in-flight emergencies, from bullets, flack damage, hung bombs or injured crew. The tower would advise us by radio of incoming aircraft emergencies so we could move as far back from the runway as far as possible. Planes would also unexpectedly crash on takeoff. The most tragic and frightening crash I saw happened on Jan 16, 1966, when a B-57 Canberra tactical bomber crashed on takeoff. That crash is documented by Don Poss in his article, “B57 Canberra Mayday… Mayday…”, http://www.war-stories.com/dn-poss-b57-01-1966.htm .At Da Nang, even traveling to post could be dangerous. One night during the monsoon season, we were on the back of the K-9 truck on our way to post. We were following a flatbed truck loaded with bombs around the end of the flight line. The road was muddy, full of deep ruts and barely driveable. Our driver could hardly see the truck ahead in the heavy monsoon rains. All of a sudden, we hit a huge bump. As I looked out the back of the truck, I saw that we had just run over a 250 lb bomb that had rolled off the truck ahead of us.
Sometimes we created our own perils. On the runway posts, Handlers and their dogs were dropped off usually in two groups, one on each end of the runway. After getting clearance from the tower, we crossed the runway and fanned out to our assigned posts. The Sacred Rule for safety reasons was, never cross the runway without clearance from the tower. As our K-9 staffing increased, and VC threats increased, we began working overlapping shifts. The early shift worked from 6pm–2am and the late shift worked from 10 pm-6 am. That gave us double coverage during the dreaded hours of 10 pm-2am. True to form, K-9 Handlers didn't always follow those Sacred Rules. Handlers who got off at 2 am were in a hurry to get back and get a couple of hours of sleep before they had to get up at daylight to work at the kennels. That was not a popular activity after only a couple of hours sleep. So, being in a hurry to get off post, we would sometimes cross the runway without getting clearance from the tower. There is no thrill like being half way across a runway at the 1,000 foot marker and hearing the twin afterburners of an F-4 Phantom kick in and seeing the Jet headed directly for you. It's amazing how fast a K-9 Handler can run with an M16 in one hand, a K-9 leash in the other, and a web belt with 25 pounds of bullets, 38 Special, flare, canteen, knife, radio and rain gear. A similar scene would sometimes happen with incoming aircraft for handlers at the end of the runway. Incoming aircraft at Da Nang would often land at night without lights to avoid taking ground fire on their approach to the Airbase. With no lights as points of reference, and with little noise on the glide path coming in, judging a planes distance out at night was almost impossible. The second biggest thrill when crossing a runway is looking up to see an F4 Phantom, F8 Crusader or maybe a C130 coming down over you. If our old SP Commander Col. Phillips is still out there, I never broke that rule, Sir.
Finally, I guess the worst of all perils is the wrath of an angry K-9 Handler. As my good friends Gary Knutson, Herb Norfolk, Byron Martin and Paul Giulaini may recall, I probably hold the Da Nang base record for getting the K-9 truck stuck in the mud in the monsoon season, going to and coming from post. I think I'd rather face a Cong with an AK47 than face an angry K-9 Handler getting off post late. My apologies to you guys for those long delays in the rain while we got towed out of the mud. On second thought - Since I'm out of shooting range from you guys – Guess what, I just did it for fun!
"History does not entrust the care of freedom to the weak or
timid." - Dwight D. Eisenhower