By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Last week we left you in 1968, at the height of war in Vietnam. 21-year-old Lance Borden had found himself in the middle of neighboring Laos; his primary job, repairing and replacing radio equipment in the North American T-28s flown by Laotian and Thai pilots and the Cessna 0-1 Birddogs flown by the group known as The Ravens. If no radio work was needed, Lance helped load and arm bombs and rockets and aided in pulling the T-28 props through during the starting sequence of their big radial engines. He helped fuel airplanes, which at first was out of 55-gallon drums using hand pumps. The fuel truck was a welcome piece of equipment.
If a pilot returned from a mission and needed radio work, he signaled Lance by cupping his hands over his ears, and Lance, in his agile youth, would leap and grasp the plane’s big machine gun and flip himself up on to the wing. The pilot would tell him the problem with his radios and he’d fix it. This went on until December, 1968, when Lance went further “up country” to a special operation in Moung Soui, Laos.
Linda: Moung Soui was labeled Lima 108 on military maps. Its runway was made of Pierced Steel Planking (PSP). The metal mat made a quick-build runway overlaying red dirt where nothing grew because of the Agent Orange dropped there regularly. There was little shelter against the elements or enemy, just a couple small buildings and some bunkers in case of attack. The men spent most of their time on the flight line; Project 404 was the name of their program–code name: Palace Dog.
Leaving the base at Udorn before sunrise, Lance flew 30 to 40 minutes to Vientiane, waited for another C-46 that took another hour to arrive in Moung Soui. He worked all day as airplanes took off on sorties and returned to be refueled and rearmed, then did it all again. The fighting was close; the T-28s’ missions rarely lasted more than 30 minutes. The Birddogs might fly for a couple hours. Most of the U.S.-supported Hmong controlled the high mountaintop ground. The Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese controlled the valleys. At day’s end Lance and the others boarded another shuttle returning to Udorn. They’d worked all day in Moung Soui supporting the air operations. Returning to Udorn, they changed into their USAF fatigues, then once off base, changed back to civvies to go out partying all night – youth.
Mike: Every once in a while Lance rode along in 0-1 Birddogs on missions; the pilots even let him fly. He saw them fire their rockets; Birddogs carried 2.5” diameter FFARs – Folding Fin Aerial Rockets, two per side. U-17s (Cessna 185s) carried four per side. Then he watched the T28s diving in afterwards, performing their air strikes. He rode in the back of a T-28 once, carrying cluster bombs on a combat mission. They flew into a fortification, saw the shooting below, dove in, dropped their load, pulled up and rolled inverted to watch where they hit – impressive for an adventurous young man. But as he returned to his duties he knew the war wasn’t far away.
Next week we’ll tell of Lance’s final assignment in Laos before returning State side. Until then, blue skies.