by Richard "Festus" Letzkus
Before describing my Brigham experiences, I want to thank Ken Kimbrough, the 505th TCG site webmaster, for his creation of and work on the site. Without his work I know many of us who are reconnected today probably would not have found each other.
Not unlike other 1744s, I volunteered for SEA duty. Volunteering was a matter of avoiding a remote tour in Alaska and as a newly minted 1st LT, was a means of advancing one's OER possibilities. Coming from a TAC control background to Brigham was a monumental step. In the 65 - 66 TAC control environment, at least for the 727 TCS, training consisted of bumping heads with T Birds; doing considerable STM, STMs were to controllers as flight simulators were to pilots, they, within their capabilities, electronically simulated intercept activities, work and doing some flight follow work. At Myrtle Beach we had an UPS 1 as the primary radar and though there was an ADC F-101 squadron in Charleston, SC they refused to work with us due to equipment limitations. There was a TPS -27 on site, but for my year and half at the 727th we never controlled off of it. So preSEA 17xx training was thin … very thin. To prepare us for SEA there was a 507th TCG Ground Combat School, which took a bunch of us brown bars to North, South Carolina to live in the woods for a week. This probably helped those who went on to Viet Nam but for me; I just came away with the worst case of chiggers imaginable. From an integrated Air Ops standpoint, there was AGOS, Air Ground Ops School, at Hurlburt. This was probably the best school I ever attended during my short stay with the AF.
So here I am in Udorn, never have run a real intercept! During 1967, although there were other tasks to be accomplished, Brigham's main mission was running air to air refueling intercepts -pairing up flights of Thuds or F-4s with KC-135 tanker cells. On the surface, when you thought about it, doing refueling should be easy … after all, unlike fighter to fighter or fighter to bomber intercepts, these two parties want to be joined. Brigham worked, from West to East, the green, orange and red anchors. These anchors represented a North by Northeast 150-mile long racetrack where the tanker cells orbited while waiting for ingressing or egressing aircraft.
At the time, our OJT was to work with the F4s on the red anchor as the F4; its mission having two people aboard and better radar could fend for themselves if everything went into the dumper. The story with the Thuds was just the opposite. A controller OJTed the red anchor after which some stayed with the reds or graduated to the orange and green anchors, which serviced the Thuds out of Korat and Tahkili, or they were transferred to other sites. After all of these years, I have great respect for the Senior Directors at the time who really knew what was going on and whose job it was to train and sort through this curious collection of 1744s arriving at Udorn. Bud Watkins; this "Heineken" is for you.
Eventually, I ended up with the green anchors. That process was a real introduction to what was going on up North. Between the "words" a camouflaged indication whether MIGs and/or SAMs were encountered was the fact that 4 went out and at times 2 came back and what you had to put the tanker cell through in order to hook the Thuds up … you really got a taste, albeit a very remote taste, of the air war in the northern route packs. During my year at the 621st, with everything that was going on in the North, I have never worked with a more dedicated bunch of fliers. I can remember one Thud flight going out one day in lousy weather when one flight member announced, in a very calm voice, that he had to punch out. When the guys came back it was all about getting hooked up. There is a audio tape running around with some RT between an orange anchor pilot and a flight of RF4s. Listening to the RT, gives one a good sense of how well the trio worked together and in particular how the tanker drivers went beyond the limits to get the job completed successfully.
As previously mentioned, running fighter - tanker rendezvous on paper was a simple thing. The ingress hook ups were nothing but if things were hot up north, we generally had most of the attack force headed toward channel 97, a Tacan about 005 at 200 miles from Udorn. On particularly bad days, there were numerous emergencies and individual flights were split up. On one of these latter occasions, it was necessary for me to split the tanker cell in two to hook up the Thuds. With a lot of aircraft in a very small area, about 1 inch square on our PPI, with emergency squawks present and at the limits of our radar, vertical separation is a must, but again the tanker pilots, as far as I know, never turned down a request to break the cell into two pieces. When living these missions, usually two a day, you had an hour or more of boredom and 5 minutes of extremely high pucker factor hooking up the egressing Thuds.
There was other work at Udorn but nothing came close to that of hooking up egressing Thuds. During the evenings, there was the farce of scrambling F-102s against unidentified helicopters flying in channel 86 airspace. About the time the deuce driver was about to acquire a lock on, the chopper had already passed to his 6 o'clock. It seemed like at one time or another everyone got into the act. I recall one afternoon when an unidentified aircraft was in the area and would not respond to the RAPCON people so they asked us to help. At the time, I had Crown, C-130, on frequency … so we ran an intercept using Crown … in very few seconds the object of the exercise, a Thai C-47, contacted RAPCON to complain about being buzzed by the C-130!
In 1967, in Udorn, balancing the job was very easy for us. Unlike our brothers In Viet Nam, we were not in harms way, and for some reason, we had the best collection of people that I have ever worked with. We worked hard and played hard. There are photos on this site that will corroborate the latter. One story that was not photographed, however, was that infamous afternoon when bad weather scrubbed the mission so we were left to our own devices and retired to the club … this was during the rainy season with the rain/rice festival, or Songkran to the Thai, in progress. For those unfamiliar the rain/rice Thai custom, each year, in anticipation of the rainy season, the Thais would sprinkle each other with a few drops of water thus assuring good rains and therefore an excellent rice crop. Of course there is no custom that a GI cannot improve upon and that we did … at the O'Club that afternoon. There are as many stories about the event as participants, the only thing that stands out in my memory was one of those clear plastic BX bags sailing towards our table full of water. In a relatively short period the floor of the club had accumulated substantial water … so much so, I am told, that the club remained closed for several days. Of course, the instigators of the mess left the scene … quickly.
Over the course of the past 2 years, with the help of the 505th site, we have managed to reconnect some 30 17xx and 273xx personnel. The one consistent comment from all was that year was the best ever experienced.
Not to slight anyone, but the class of 1967 has some interesting graduates. We have a retired 17xx BG in our midst, Myron Dobashi, and a 273xx that went on to be the President of the State of Maine's Senate, Charles Pray.
Any Brigham 17xx or 273xx reading this that has not signed up with me for reunion purposes please contact me at my e mail address on site photos.