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The view: An OV-10 Bronco at daybreak over northern Cambodia, early in the summer of 1973.

The pilot: Dale Hill (callsign Nail 49) in my OV-10 taking a picture of my roommate, Pat McCullough (callsign Nail 47), in his.

The airplane: North American OV-10 Bronco.

The mission: While flying with the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron (callsign Nail FACs, or Forward Air Controllers) on one summer day, I had the first takeoff from our Forward Operating Location at Ubon Airbase in Thailand. This translated to a 2:45 am (!) briefing at the Intell shop, a 3:45 showtime at the airplane, and gear up at 4:15. My roommate had taken off a few minutes behind me and we were both headed south to either support Khmer forces on the ground or to conduct visual “recce” to find and destroy the Khmer Rouge. With nearly a one hour flight until we arrived on station, we used the time to do some chores to get ready for the day. That included getting our maps (1:50,000 charts covering ALL of Cambodia) strategically situated in the cockpit, and, using a grease pencil, writing much of the information (frequencies, code words, etc.) we needed handy on the canopy, where it would be easy to read during the heat of battle. We also checked our radios, which played a big role in our mission. First, we made certain our secure voice capability was properly configured for the day, as it could be utilized with several of the radios with which we were equipped. We already knew our UHF radios worked because we had just used them to get where we were, but we checked them anyway as they were critical to our ability to communicate with the fighters we would be directing against targets later that day. We made certain our HF was available for long-range comms (or else to listen to the BBC, Radio Australia, or the Voice of America—some guys even used the HF to “phone home” with the help of Ham radio operators). Next was our VHF/AM, used to coordinate with the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (the A-B-Triple-C), a specially configured C-130 with whom we worked. Finally, we checked those two radios which we used most often, our VHF/FMs, used to communicate with other FACs as well as ground commanders. When we were finished, the sky had begun to lighten in the early dawn and Pat reported that he could see my aircraft ahead of him. We were in uncontrolled airspace, it was simply see and avoid, which was difficult at night because we always flew with all external lights turned off as the enemy gunners were pretty good at tracking illuminated position lights and beacons. I slowed down and suggested that he speed up to catch me so I could take his picture using my trusty 35mm. In a few minutes, Pat was flying off my left wing.

The memory: The sun was just below the horizon and I thought it would make a good picture. Pat flew abreast of me on the east side and counted down from 3; when he reached zero, he broke away from me and I snapped the picture. We did this several times as digital cameras were not on the market and I would have to see the prints later to see if I got a good shot. When I did get the prints back, I selected this one, had it printed as an 8×10 with a matte finish, and posted it in the squadron to see if others might like a copy. I got orders for about 50, which I had processed and delivered to my fellow FACs. The original is on the wall in my office.

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Dale Hill
6 replies
    • Dale Hill
      Dale Hill says:


      It was my first assignment from pilot training and it was indeed a great airplane that was a lot of fun to fly. I got over 700 hours in it in a single year and those hours taught me a lot about flying.

  1. Joe Dickey
    Joe Dickey says:

    Great picture and glad you folks were there Colonel!! I was on the ground below you “hueyed” in from NKP in Aug 73.Hats off to all the FAC;s!!!

  2. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    Thanks for the tip of the hat. I admired those of you on the ground. When I attended the Marine Command & Staff College, on of my Marine classmates, who was a ‘tanker’ said they would never want to be in a flying foxhole over the battlefield as it would draw fire. I replied I would never want to be in an armored foxhole rolling around on the battlefield because it too would draw fire while moving at a much slower speed!!!

  3. Russ Judge
    Russ Judge says:

    My father (Wally Judge) was in the 23rd TASS during Vietnam. If you knew him, I’d love to hear any stories you have of him. I unfortunately did not gain a real interest in his experience until after he started suffering from vascular dementia, and he was unable to recall his experience, and he has since passed. I’ve gotten bits and pieces, but some things I’m curious about has remained unanswered. For example, he was awarded brass balls (with an accompanying letter), but no information on what he did to get them. I’d love to know more about his experience.
    Thank you.

  4. Dale
    Dale says:

    Russ, You and I are communicating via email. For those who are wondering, the ‘Brass Balls’ were awarded to Nail FACs at the end of their tour of duty. Done in a lighthearted fashion, they were given in recognition of a FAC needing to possess ‘Brass Balls’ in order to fly the FAC mission. The FAC population was about 3% of the Air Force’s flying effort in Vietnam, but they comprised 12% of the Air Force aviators killed in action, so although the presentation was lighthearted, it recognized the very serious nature of the FAC mission.


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