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By John J. Fitzgerald

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We learned to use caution when attacking these targets, as occasionally we came under fire from shore batteries while diving on the boats. ’ VA-215’s second Vietnam deployment was only slightly less costly than its first. Cdr Robert Hessom was killed on 5 March 1966 when his A-1H (BuNo 137589) crashed after flying 15 miles from where it had been hit by AAA south of Vinh during a Rolling Thunder strike. Cdr Frederick L Nelson duly assumed command. Hessom’s remains were eventually recovered in 1994 near Ha Tinh.

In two line periods of operations in II, III, and IV Corps areas, VA-176 flew almost 2000 combat hours and dropped 1720 tons of ordnance on targets in South Vietnam. None of its aircraft were seriously damaged, but ground fire hit A-1s during 24 sorties. During a typical day on Dixie Station, VA-176 launched five threeaeroplane missions and one four-aeroplane mission, the last of which recovered at night. Standard 30- and 50-degree dive attacks were used whenever weather and the nature of the target permitted.

As I was pulling out and circling back for another go, I observed No 4 well off our dive line, heading northwest. I radioed, “Don’t drop No 4 – you’re way off target”, just as he released his bomb. ‘Well, his errant bomb started a series of secondary explosions that lasted a full eight to ten minutes – an ammo dump, we speculated during the debrief. I advised the FAC that we were ready to drop more bombs around that area, but he called us off. The hot target was unauthorised! We then proceeded to expend the rest of our bombs on his smoke signals, with no discernible results.

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