It doesn't take a Wolfpack fighter pilot but a few missions to get used to the annoyance of flak and the stark terror of a SAM break, before his fangs begin to get long and he realizes the real reason for being over here. He's here to kill MiGs, and he's not gonna rest easy 'til he gets his chance. Everybody wants to shoot down a MIG. But you can't go off half-cocked; it has worked out the other way around. When you go MIG hunting, you gotta be careful, especially if it's MIG-17s that you find. They sneak off down to Banana Valley and lay in the grass like a snake, and just wait for somebody to make a slip. . .
The F-4 was known as a 'multi-role fighter.' That means it was a fighter-bomber, a fighter- interceptor, and a fighter-fighter. The reconnaissance version was known to 'kill 'em with fill- um.'
The first thing every one of us wanted when we got to the war, was to go shoot down a MiG. Destroy an enemy plane in air-to-air combat, and you were an automatic hero; guaranteed Silver Star for gallantry in action.
One wants to choose very carefully just where—and whom—one fights in the air. The best and safest way is to sneak up behind 'em, shoot 'em in the back like a yellow coward, then run like hell. Eighty percent of the people shot down in air combat never had a clue they were even under attack. Back-shooting is the recommended method.
It's been many decades since last I saw Banana Valley. I didn't know whether I'd be able to relocate and identify it on the map. Any seventh-grader could. There it is, on the ONC (Operational Navigational Chart), thirty miles southwest of Hanoi. Looks like a banana.
There's a stream pouring down out of the 4,000-foot hills surrounding Hoa Binh. That hummer drops damn near to sea level in a little under ten miles. No wonder there's a valley. It roars past a small place called Van Duc, teams up with a couple of other busy little waterways and joins the Song Ma. From there it becomes a respectable-sized river on its way to the Gulf of Tonkin, twenty more miles downstream. About five miles short of the coastal mud flats it rolls under another unforgettable place, called the Thanh Hoa Bridge.
The MIG-17 is a grand old flying machine, not all of which have been relegated to the world's aviation boneyards. Paleozoic avionics and according to those who know, really tough to handle when the Mach approaches point-nine. Bloody dangerous, nevertheless.
I mean, look, any reasonably pissed off teenager could give Rambo a headache to remember if he surprised him in the base of the skull with a big-ass rock from dead six o'clock. The little bastard is tough to see, too, unless you're lucky enough to catch a dark silhouette against the rice paddies.
Banana Valley was a sterling place for Nguyen to hide in his MiG-17 and wait for a Yankee Air Pirate dumb enough to be thinking with his fangs, instead of his brains, that far north.
One day a little further north a daisy chain developed with a Phantom out front, followed by a MiG-17, followed by another Phantom, followed by another MiG-17. You guessed it: MiGs two; Phantoms one.