Editor's note: MSGT (Ret) Ed Diehl, a Flightline Maintenance Supervisor with the 362nd TEWS, first at Pleiku and later at Da Nang, relates some of his experiences, including a couple of memorable rocket attacks.
(L) Ed atop Monkey Moutain, Da Nang (R) In front of the Da Nang barracks
Pleiku Rocket Attack, 19 May 1970
I signed in at Pleiku on 2 Apr 70, just coming from the States. I never thought anything about the barracks they put me in, which turned out to be the NCO barracks, second floor, up on the hill.
The sky was such a funny color when the first rocket hit; the sound was something else, there was a gun powder smell. The rockets were a couple minutes apart I'm guessing. Other than the big BOOM when the second rocket hit I don't remember much else. The four of us were all looking out the sand bag bunker when the second rocket hit, seeing 133's nose section go across the ramp, after that all of our heads were on the ground and our butts were in the air instead of our heads.
I didn't see this but I was told that 133 was cleaned up totally during the night, for they didn't want the nationals who worked on the base to see the damage when they came to work the next morning. When I came to work the next afternoon all you could see was the darkened revetment walls. We parked aircraft in that spot later. A short time later a rocket hit a power unit parked in front of the aircraft parked there. They told us they had found the launcher, but we didn't believe them. What we would do was do the maintenance and refueling somewhere else, when the aircraft was ready to go we'd tow it to that spot and get the hell away from there, no one wanted to go near that parking space. We had no choice for we needed all the parking spots. No one ever approached me to debrief. Our Maintenance Officer, Capt Stan Schloesser, was the only person who talked to me about the ordeal. All these years I didn't say much about this until about 3-4 years ago at one of our reunions I told the story.
After 133 was hit I woke up — we're in a war zone and this barracks would be a good target. Myself and another gentleman started looking for a place to live way down the hill. He found an empty one-floor barracks with sand bags around the outside bottom section. It felt much safer. We moved in, the only two people living there. Within a couple weeks most of the upper floor guys living in the NCO barracks joined us. I was 35 when 133 got hit, turned 35 on May 4, I had 13 years in the USAF at that time, was a MSGT with a 43191 AFSC. I had been married for 11 years with 2 kids, a boy 10 and a girl 6.
One week later aircraft 882 was parked on the spot where 133 got hit, a rocket hit a power unit that was parked in front of 882. The aircraft was severely damaged. Second rocket came in and hit the street by the young airman's barracks.
Round Two at Da Nang
As you can see from the diagram we had the first two barracks. Field Maintenance was next (hydraulic specialists, engine people, prop people, etc.)
The rocket hit between our second barracks and the Field Maintenance barracks. It had to be, say, October* due to the ground being saturated with rain due to rainy season. The ground was so wet the rocket didn’t detonate when it hit the ground. Instead it buried itself before going off. I’d say that saved us all. No one was hurt or killed.
The young airman in the bed next to the wall was blown off the bed across the room. The guy only had a couple of days left before rotating back to the States. He wouldn’t go to bed [again] for he was afraid he was going to die.
It Could've Been Worse . . . .
One young airman was very lucky. He went to the bunker when the first rocket hit the flight line. Good thing he did, for a huge piece of asphalt came through the roof crushing his bed. I remember this attack very clearly. My boss, CMSGT Jack Achenbach, asked me to go to the chapel with him. His church (Lutheran I think ) held a supper once a month. We finished and went to the club, for there was a USO show there. We just got seated when the first rocket hit. We squatted down on the floor, for the floor was nasty. Most of the drunks were laying on the nasty floor praying. Jack and I went out the back door to the bunker until they blew the all clear. He was still living on the bottom floor of the NCO barracks on the hill; I was living down the hill in the one-story barracks. We both went our separate ways.
I only knew of one Purple Heart being presented to a young airman as a result of this attack. He was in the bunker and decided he needed to take a leak. He went outside the bunker to pee and when the rocket hit a piece of asphalt hit the hand that was guiding the flow. The vital organ was protected, and his hand suffered only slight damage. I don't know who wrote the Purple Heart citation, but later me and several others were told we had to go to the ceremony for the presentation of the award. Very few people couldn't keep from laughing when they started reading the citation . . . . In The Line Of Duty !!!!
*The 362d TEWS history for July-December 1970 states that 8 x 122mm rockets hit the base on 12 October, damaging Bldg 944. No injuries were reported. A USAF summary of base attacks compiled later indicates only two rounds impacted.
NOTE: The legacy site contains other descriptions of the Pleiku attack. Click HERE to view.
Article posted 5 December 2020