Email From an Operation Tailwind Participant

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Below is an email I received from Joe Driscoll, who was the pilot of one of the Marine Cobra Gunships tasked with flying close air support for the Marine CH-53 heavy lift helicopters during Operation Tailwind. The email is reproduced in its entirety, including headers.

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Date: Tue, 16 Jun 1998 13:23:02 -0700
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Subject: Tailwind veteran
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I just read your account of Operation Tailwind. Great job. I flew one of the Marine Cobra's on that mission which actually took place over four days, September 11, 12, 13 and 14th. I was enraged at the irresponsible CNN/Time story. I wrote the attached article which was published in Sunday's Monterey (CA) Herald. Please feel free to include it in your web page or elsewhere if you deem it appropriate. Thanks.

"There They Go Again" CNN/Time's NewsStand

There they go again. They introduced themselves as "two of the world's leading news organizations, come to a place that honors journalism's past, to begin a new venture of our own." The introduction went on to say, "if we do our job right....". Well I'm here to say they didn't.

I still get asked lots of questions about Vietnam. Someday it would be nice to confidently answer those questions by telling friends and family to tune into CNN tonight because there's a special program on a mission that your Dad flew on in 1970. Unfortunately that day still isn't here yet.

The story was billed as "Nerve Gas Used on Secret Mission to Kill American Defectors". It was a headline designed to catch your attention and it caught mine. I read on. 1970...September SOG.... Laos.....Dak To....September 11th. They had my attention now. I was there. I knew the story. CNN/Time didn't. They distorted, sensationalized and misrepresented it to fit their political spin and their marketing hype. After 28 years they still can't report Vietnam accurately. It's a shame because the real story's a good one.

I was a 23 year old Marine 1st Lieutenant flying a Cobra gunship assigned the mission of providing close air support for Marine CH-53 helicopters inserting a special forces team into Laos. I was in Kontum on September 10th to meet the SOG teams and receive the intelligence briefing on the mission. There was no question that this mission was different, it was secret, it was special and yes, we were issued gas masks. But a "SECRET MISSION TO DROP NERVE GAS TO KILL AMERICAN DEFECTORS". If it hadn't made me cry like so many of my other memories, it would have been laughable.

Let me tell you about a few of the things that happened 28 years ago. First let me say I don't quarrel with any of the direct quotes aired from the few participants that were interviewed on the program. Twenty eight-year-old memories taken out of context and woven into the CNN/Time political fabric didn't tell the real story. Let me begin where the story ended. Several days after the final extraction that ended Operation Tailwind, the pilots of MAG 16 were invited back to the SOG base in Kontum in appreciation for the extraction that saved their lives. While our time together was brief, there is a special level of intimacy and candor between men bonded in combat and lubricated with Montagnard rice wine. We swapped great tales but none as I remember of "round eye defectors and nerve gas saving the day" as featured in the CNN/Time report.

As a pilot flying one of the Marine helicopter gunships that provided close air support, I was there for the insertion of Lt. Mc Carley and his courageous troops on September 11th. And again on September 13th for the emergency medical extraction of the most critically wounded and again on September 14th when the remainder of the ground team was successfully extracted. I was just a bit player in a larger drama, but for my small part I was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. I'm proud of it and my service in Vietnam and I wish somebody would get the story right sometime.

On September 14th the air space over this small area in Laos was as busy as O'Hare Airport the day before Thanksgiving. The Spads were there as well Air Force and Marine Corps jets with heavy ordinance and OV-10's providing targeting information. Our gunships were there suppressing ground fire and protecting the H-53's which would make the eventual extraction. Oh, by the way, the North Vietnamese were there also with their Russian and Chinese weapons. All of this deep in the heart of Laos. This, Mr. Carville, was a real war!

To listen to CNN you'd have thought that nerve gas was dropped and the good guys walked out over dead bodies. That wasn't the way it was. It was a fight for survival. My gunship took eight hits during the extraction efforts and I don't know of any others who were treated more kindly. One of the first H-53s in the zone for the extraction was shot down, ditched and destroyed. If it really is a fact that nerve gas was used, the real story would have been that it hadn't worked so well.

All but one of the original insertion team made it out safely. Many were wounded and several of our helicopters were lost. Survival was what we were celebrating when we rendezvoused in Kontom several days later. CNN/Time reported that "as many as 60 of the Montagnards were killed". I guess if you consider 1 the same as a number "up to as many as 60", they were technically right. I choose to think CNN/Time were back to their old tricks.

There was a great story to be told about the events of September 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th. I'm proud of my small part in those events and I'm pissed that the news media hasn't gotten it right yet!

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Creation Date: Tuesday, June 9, 1998
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 9, 1998
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