He had been over Hue every day since January
31, mostly to no avail because of the weather.
At the conclusion of his target description,
Laramy said that he would mark the target
with green smoke, a vital aid in that weather.
As Ray Latall learned later, the Army O-1
was fitted out as a medevac bird, so it had
none of the smoke rockets the spotter planes
usually carried. It happened to be the only O-1
available at Hue-Phu Bai when Benchmark 16
had run low on fuel. To deliver a green-smoke
grenade, Laramy had to ask the pilot to fly low
and slow over the target, an extremely hazardous
enterprise. It was then that Laramy learned that
the pilot was making his combat debut; this was
his first mission over Vietnam. The pilot was
game for the effort, but his inexperience severely
complicated a really tricky situation.
The jets’ final approach to the target was scary.
Flying too low and too slow with very heavy
ordnance loads, both A- 4 pilots were acutely
aware of the many high radio towers that dotted
the Hue landscape. They could see none of them
clearly and had no real sense of their position
relative to their flight paths. A broad column of
oily smoke from a U.S. Navy landing craft that
was burning in the river, towering dust clouds
from heavy artillery detonations, and rain all
impeded visibility and competed for attention.
There were even reports that helicopters were in
the air nearby.
Benchmark 15 commenced his marking run
over the target—the section of the Citadel’s
southeast wall directly in front of Major Bob
Thompson’s 1/5. As the green smoke billowed
up, both pilots reported from their loose orbit
that they could see it—and another
green-smoke source. Neither of the jet pilots had any
idea which was the one marking their target.
Clearly, the NVA were monitoring the tactical
air frequency, for only they could have set off
the second green-smoke grenade. No problem.
Captain Laramy knew which was the right
marker, and he talked the A-4s into their target.
Going for It!
Van Es made a dummy run to confirm that he
knew where the target was, and Latall followed.
It was worth the extra risk. Neither pilot knew
precisely how close to fellow Marines they
would be dropping their bombs, but they knew
it would be close. There was no margin for error.
Captain Laramy confirmed that the A-4s were
on target. The NVA on the ground also confirmed
by firing several .51-caliber machine guns at the
The Skyhawk pilots had the option of dropping
Van Es made a dummy run to confirm
that he knew where the target was, and
Latall followed. It was worth the extra risk.
Neither pilot knew precisely how close to
fellow Marines they would be dropping
their bombs, but they knew it would be
close. There was no margin for error.
U.S. Army “Birddog” spotter
planes, carrying Marine
infantry officers serving as
aerial observers, were able
to run few airstrikes until
the afternoon of February
22. They typically flew low
and slow, the better to spot
targets and assess damage.
One of the Army Birddog
pilots was killed at the
controls on February 22, and
the Marine aerial observer,
Capt. Bob Laramy, was
seriously burned. (Official
USMC photo by Lance Cpl.
D. M. Messenger)