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Vietnam I was a 1stLt. copilot in HMH463, and had only been in-country for a month at the time. I was assigned to the flight schedule for the nape drop, and was very excited to be going on one. I had heard about them, but this was going to be the biggest. Charlie Ridge was our target. The NVA there were in tight, and didn't want to move. Attempts to clear the area with fixed wing bombs had failed. Marines were taking heavy casualties.

Fixed wing aircraft and artillery also participated in the effort. At 0300 in the morning, artillery from all of the fire support bases within range (Danang, Ross, Ryder, An Hoa, Baldy, etc.) started firing into the area with 105 mm, 155 mm, and 175 mm. The goal here was to keep the enemy pinned down. At daylight the fixed wing bombing started, with 500 and 1000 lb. bombs. When the first flight of three CH53s hit the initial and started inbound, the fixed wing attack lifted. Then OV-10s would mark the target with Willie Pete for each of the four flights of three CH53s. Each of the wingmen would pickle their load when the lead dropped, bringing sixty 55-gal drums of napalm raining down (3300 gallons). When the last flight of CH53s returned to reload, the fixed wing started again. That day HMH 463 dropped 2000 barrels (110,000 gallons) of napalm.

We were dropping at 1500' AGL, and an airspeed of 135 knots. At that altitude we were just a bit concerned about the possibility of radar 37s being in the area. That turned out to not be a problem.

After the first run, the rest of the day just seemed to be same old, same old. We dropped, returned to refuel, reloaded, dropped, etc. It was really awesome to watch the aircraft ahead dropping, and the resultant flames and explosions.

I went down to join 2/7 as FAC for several months (thanks, Skipper). We were going after MajGen Binh, CG of the NVA Front Four, and intel had placed him in a mountainous area of the Que Son mountains. An area that was perfect for a major ThrashLight. I recommended to the Battalion Commander that we use a ThrashLight combined with the arty and air. After the ThrashLight, we would insert troops into strategic areas. The CO was all for it, but the Regimental Air Officer, who was a fixed wing major recommended against the ThrashLight, so the Regimental Commander said no. That operation resulted in seven Marine casualties, and Maj Gen Binh managed to slip away. We later learned that he had been in the exact location that we had planned the nape drop.

Barrel Bombers, Forever! Semper Fi!

Note: by Skip Burns


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