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23rd Tactical Air Support Sq.
Nakhon Phanom, RTAB


An Informal History

The 23rd TASS was created out of Det 3 of the 505th in April, 1966 by  Lt. Col. (selectee) Robert L. Johnston (known as Louie).  LC Johnston selected Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai AFB for operations in the Steel Tiger portion of the Laos Panhandle (Ho Chi Minh Trail between Nape Pass and Tchepone area).  The 23rd  was originally a 505th detachment from about January of '66 until April, when the squadron was activated officially. Also officially it was at Udorn, though the only part of it that was there were personnel and pay records. We were all at NKP, and until the A-26s arrived in June we were the only combat outfit stationed there that was allowed across the Mekong. The rescue Jollies and Sandies went all too often, of course, but they were tdy from Udorn. Air Commandoes were supposed to be doing civic action in Thailand and were not even allowed weapons until the Eagles arrived. T-28s weren't blooded until '67.

Five FAC's went to NKP in January to test the idea of working the Steel Tiger portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and many more came there TDY during the following months. Losses of 23rd TASS pilots started in March with Karl Worst, whose plane disappeared in an apparent mid-air with an F-105 during and air strike. Next was Joe Brown, in Mu Ghia Pass, in early April. Then in May Lee Harley was shot down very near the border of North Viet Nam in the valley now named for him, on a recently-discovered alternate trail. In June Warren P. "Willie Pete" Smith was shot down, and Tom Wolfe was killed in the jump seat of an A-26 Nimrod that was shot down by heavy triple-A during an orientation flight, in Harley's Valley.

The 23rd TASS, like those in Vietnam, flew Cessna O-1s in 1966 and part of 1967. All this squadron's aircraft were the F variant, whose most important difference was a variable-pitch propeller. Many of them were camouflaged at first, including that of Karl Worst, and were repainted gray with very small markings by a contractor at Tan Son Nhut, a few at a time.

The unit was called Operation Cricket, which name the area airborne control ship took for a callsign, and the original pilot callsign was Gombey. For some reason this was changed to Nail in mid-1966, and that stayed. I have heard that the 23rd TASS was the last such squadron to be disbanded; they even participated (A-10s) in the Gulf War! The well-known unit patch, Jiminy Cricket with a walkie-talkie and an umbrella, was sold to the squadron by Disney for $1, after being requested by Nail John Taylor. 

Those who are interested in the 23rd TASS should see Jimmie Butlers  book, A Certain Brotherhood, a novel about the unit.  Another excellent book authored by a former 23rd TASS FAC is 'The Rescue of Bat 21,' by Darrel Whitcomb.  Darrel's book is a factual account of the famous and very costly rescue of an Intruder flight officer in Vietnam.

Contributed by Bill Tilton wtilton@erols.com


Check out this link to the AF Museum's page on FAC's

Messing With FAC's

A true story written by an Army helicopter door gunner about the consequences of messing with FAC's.

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Copyright, 1997-2007 by Kenneth L. Kimbrough