Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Forgotten Mission — Chapter 4

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On May 20, 2008, I received an email from Bernadette Ross, saying she planned to contact Fort Rucker, Alabama, about “filming opportunities” on a documentary about the Cau Song Be mission.

Fort Rucker is the home of the Army Aviation School, as it was in the 1960’s when Tom Baca, Larry Liss, Ken Dolan and I attended flight training there.

Tom had sent Bernadette a digital video showing the landing zone where our two UH-1D “Huey” helicopters had landed repeatedly on May 14, 1967, to rescue more than 100 South Vietnamese soldiers ambushed by 600-700 enemy troops hear Cau Song Be. Two days after the rescue, Tom flew over the landing zone and took film clips on Super 8 film.

Tom had digitized the clips, along with other film footage he had taken during his first tour of duty in Vietnam. Windfall Films of London was delighted to have Tom’s original video from the Vietnam War.

Bernadette, as associate producer with the planned “Helicopter Warfare” television documentary series, was doing groundwork on the two segments dealing with U.S. military missions. Another crew from Windfall Films would be filming the two documentaries involving military helicopters from the United Kingdom.

During the exchange of email Tom had told Bernie the New Mexico Army National Guard still had some Vietnam War-era Hueys in Santa Fe. Though they had medevac (medical evacuation) red cross markings on the nose, the inside of the helicopters looked just like the ones we had flown in Vietnam. The Hueys even had armored seats.

Tom was New Mexico’s state aviation officer and had excellent contacts within state government. He thought the National Guard helicopters in Santa Fe could be used to film some of the reenactments and as backdrops for on-camera interviews.

On May 23, Bernie sent a note to Tom and me, saying she and Richard Max, the director of the Vietnam War documentary, planned to be in Albuquerque in late May to meet with us, and then visit with the National Guard Public Affairs Office.

Tom and I drove to a hotel near Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza on May 29 and met Bernie and Richard for the first time. We then took the short drive to Tom’s house, where we spent the next 5-6 hours rehashing and fleshing out our parts in the Cau Song Be rescue. Bernie and Richard were sticklers for accuracy. Tom and I felt good about the attention they were paying to details.

At the end of our meeting, Tom told Bernie and Richard he and a friend planned to visit Vietnam in October. Richard did a quick calculation. “That would be during editing, but we can’t miss an opportunity to film you in Vietnam,” he said.

Tom turned to me. “Why don’t you join us in Vietnam?”

“Let me check my schedule,” I said. For years, I had planned to return to Vietnam. Now I had a deadline. “I’ll do it.”

That evening we ate Mexican food in Old Town and then took the filmmakers back to their hotel. They planned to visit National Guard officers in Santa Fe the following day, and then fly to Alabama to look over Fort Rucker. The next time we would see Bernie and Richard would be in July, when we would be in front of the camera.

During June, Tom and I were in regular contact with Bernie as she and Richard tightened the storyline and focused on details. I became accustomed a regular phrase in her emails: “I have a couple of questions which I’d like to run by you if I may.”

On July 4, Tom and I received a note from Bernie. “We all at Windfall wish you and your family a wonderful 4th July. We haven’t confirmed our flights yet, but the National Guard have confirmed that they can accommodate our filming (from 15th-18th July) and so yours and Jack’s interview day is Thursday, 17th July. We very much look forward to filming with you . . .”

The reservations were confirmed. Now we had a date for filming and reliving the Cau Song Be mission.


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