John Larrison A-1 Skyraider Pilot – Interview When discussing my tour in Vietnam, the two most frequent questions are: Why was the US Airforce flying a Korean War vintage Navy propeller aircraft And why were we involved in the Vietnam war? The two questions are interrelated and date back historically to 1954. It is a rather complex issue, so I’ll try to boil it down to the basics.
In the 1950s Vietnam fought a war of independence from the French Colonial rule. In 1954 they defeated the French during the final battle at Dien Bien Phu. The war ended with the written Geneva Accords which spelled out several future agreements. The Key was that Vietnam would be divided into North and South Vietnam and an election would be held in two years to rejoin North and South Vietnam. That never happened. The North went Communistic and declared themselves an Independent North Vietnam and soon started invading the South. In the early 1960s, the US did not want Vietnam to become a Communist nation and started providing Clandestine (secret) support to the South Vietnamese. However, the Geneva Accords had a requirement that no nation would introduce Modern Weapons to Vietnam. Therefore, the equipment provided to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF), and any US “advisors” to Vietnam were provided with basically WW-II and or Korean vintage propeller aircraft equipment.
At about the same time, the US Navy was starting to phase out its AD series Skyraiders of Korean war vintage fighter aircraft. There was a Two Seat model, the A-1E. It was just the answer to Vietnam. As it was a propeller aircraft (not a modern weapon), and it fit the plan for Vietnam. The first USAF A-1E Skyraders arrived in Vietnam in mid-1964.
I arrived a few months later in December 1964for a one-year tour. Our cover story was that we were “Advisors” training VNAF pilots in the two-seat A-1E. We did do some training, but our primary missions were Close Air Support (CAS) to the Vietnamese ground forces. During combat missions, we had to carry a Vietnamese Airman in the right seat to support the pilot training cover story. I am Captain John Larrison and this is my story.
In mid-1965 the United States decided that the Chinese and Russians were pumping modern equipment into the Communistic North Vietnamese and escalated our support with the entry of F-100s at Bien Hoa and other “modern” fighter in Thailand. At this point, we were able to abandon our training cover story and fly combat solo. The war also escalated into airstrikes along the CV supply routes from North Vietnam south through Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia to South Vietnam. This route became known as the Ho Chi Min Trail. As part of the build-up of US Forces, both A-1 Squadrons were moved to Thailand to better provide support CAS to operations in Laos, Thailand, and along the Ho Chi Min trail. Also, an important mission was Search and Rescue (SAR) aircover for recovery of down aircrew.
I lead the first A-1s to Udorn, Thailand, and Nakhon Phanom (NKP) in mid-1965 which soon developed into the “Sandy” SAR missions. My fellow A-1 Pilots who followed my tour can better cover these operations which grew and continued into in the late 1960s and early 1970 up to the War’s end in 1974.