by Jack Broughton
Copyright © 1988 by Jacksel Broughton
We split the North into six numbered sections that we called Route Packages. Package One was the southernmost. While the defenses were lighter there, those who didn’t properly respect them often paid with their lives for their carelessness. The significant targets and the tougher defenses were all to the north, and by the time you got to Pack Six, with Hanoi and Haiphong in the center, you were in the big leagues. About 80 percent of the North’s war materials moved along two rail lines that ran south from China and converged in Hanoi, while about 80 percent of the material used to bolster the North’s economy was shipped into the port of Haiphong. If you were an interdiction fighter pilot, Pack Six was what it was all about.
If we got fragged on one of the easy packs it was a letdown. It was even worse to get fragged on Pack Six, go through all the pre-mission preparations, get psyched up to go Downtown, then get skunked after you got airborne by the weather or a command hiccup from Washington or some other headquarters. When that happened, we had to paw through our cramped cockpits and sort out the piles of paper, maps, and target folders we always had to carry for each of our two alternate targets. Then we had to figure out how to get there from where we were. When we got there we usually found the alternate targets to be insignificant or nonexistent and far less stimulating than Downtown Hanoi.
The navy worked the same Route Package structures we did and they launched their strikes from carriers off the coast, while our air force fighter strikes came out of Thailand. The air force had abut 40,000 men in Thailand, with 28,000 of them involved in some phase of combat mission support involving 300 strike aircraft and 250 support aircraft at six Thai bases. Between us we had a lot of hardware and a lot of dedicated people who are sure to this day that if we had been properly utilized, Vietnam would not have been the debacle that it was, and that many thousands of Americans would not have been lost needlessly in the mud down south.
In our wing we had a good exchange visit program going with our navy buddies. They would gather up four or five of their fighter types and launch from the carrier in their little Cod transport aircraft and recover at Takhli; then a few weeks later they would send the Cod back to pick up some of our troops and take them out to the carrier. Depending on the schedule, we would spend a couple of hours or days yakking about how we were fighting the war and we all learned from each other. The navy guys and my guys had long since agreed that neither of us had a corner on all the good tactical smarts or how a crazy war like this one should be fought. There was no friction at the operating level.
In April of 1966 Route Pack Six was split between the navy and the air force. It was far from a hard line and we constantly moved around in each other’s area, with the navy choppers darting in to save a shot-down air force pilot or with us refueling in their area when we came up the water route to the northeast railroad. We always worked together to get the job done, and when we got together on the ground we always laughed at the big gears up the line arguing about who dropped the most bombs or flew the most sorties. Hell, there was plenty there for all of us if they had ever used us as they should have.
The navy was given the eastern portion of Pack Six, which was closest to the coast and included Haiphong, and which was where they had normally worked anyway. Downtown Hanoi and the areas to the west and south were given to the air force as their primary operating area. If we worked pretty much in the same area each time we were up there it gave us a better shot at knowing the terrain and targets. We also developed a better feel for the constantly moving defenses.
Those of us flying Thuds got to know Pack Six in great detail. If we didn’t commit that geography to memory we simply increased our jeopardy on each trip. There was no time to sit around and cogitate or read maps when the action got heavy during a strike. We had to know where to expect the action and how to get there and how to get back out of there, but we also had to know where the off-limits lines were drawn.
If we wandered too far north while working in Pack Six we were violating our restriction against entering the Chinese border buffer zone. That sizable strip of the North, extending all the way from the desolate western border to the Gulf of Tonkin, was etched in Washington’s mind and it contained many well-traveled roads and rail lines that stretched into China. It also provided sanctuary for the MiGs when things didn’t go their way. Our leaders wanted to be sure that we remembered where they had drawn that line, so they kept a bunch of big command and control aircraft flying around, to the south and out over the water. Those aircraft had radar eyes that allowed their crews to see from border to border and track us, then turn us in if we got a few feet offsides while we were being shot at.
Whether they were being catapulted off a carrier deck or struggling into the air from a jungle airstrip in Thailand, fighter pilots who worked Pack Six were sympathetic to the desires of Admiral Sharp, the senior commander of the entire Pacific operation. He was constantly involved in exchanges with the Johnson administration, and as the war dragged on ineffectively he became increasingly critical of the lack of action at the top. His proposal was that six basic systems in the North should be promptly and decisively destroyed: the electrical networks, the limited industries with war-making capabilities, the transportation net, the air bases and training centers, the petroleum, oil, and lubricant, or POL, facilities, and the constantly improving Russian- and Chinese-sponsored air defense network. His proposals were repeatedly rejected. Rather than attack and destroy those systems, Johnson and McNamara seemed to be determined to protect them, or at worst nibble at them bit by bit, in order in insure their no-win philosophy.
Rolling Thunder was the code name assigned to our strikes against the North. The project was on paper in 1965, but it took a long time to get it in motion and it never truly got rolling as it should have. The POL phase of Rolling Thunder finally opened on June 29, 1966. McNamara made the announcement in Washington, but before he talked to the press we had already been at work against the POL storage tanks that we had wanted to go after since the first days of the war. When we got there, still under all sorts of cumbersome rules as to where to go and how to get there and what we could hit, we found what we had expected—we were at least a year late. We did a lot of good work and had smoke billowing to 30,000 feet, but it was only a fraction of the good we could have done.
Recognizing the fact that McNamara and Johnson were afraid to move decisively, the Vietnamese had been busy for many months on a program to disperse and hide their POL all across the countryside. They used everything from large underground tanks to barrels in village backyards. The president and secretary had originally given permission to attack the POL sites in April, but in a real display of indecision they refused to allow us to attack. In effect we were told it was okay, but don’t really do it until tomorrow, or someday. The military would say “Okay, we’re ready,” but Washington would say “Wait.” Next day the process would be repeated with still another decree of “Not yet.” Washington wanted more assurances of accuracy, more assurances that no civilians would be hurt, and more assurances that no third-country personnel or ships would be harmed. Finally, on June 29, the navy hit POL in the Haiphong area while a seventy-aircraft strike of Thuds hit POL in the Hanoi area. This pattern continued sporadically, at the whim of Washington, throughout the rest of 1966 and 1967. While the show was downright spectacular at times, it was a pale version of what could have been a real show.
Toward the end of 1966 we got all sorts of hush-hush briefings and indications that someone had sold Washington on letting us go right into the middle of Downtown. We rushed to prepare all the details and you would have thought we were going to a big party the way our pilots squabbled over who was on the schedule and who was flying whose wing in which flight. Nobody wanted to be left out. They all wanted to be part of the attacks against the hottest targets yet released to us, admittedly the most fiercely defended targets ever faced by any pilot in history. The adrenaline count was high throughout the wing. We were primed and ready to go. We got visits from generals telling us the importance of our tasks, as if we needed any extra pumping up, and we got lousy weather.
Once we had selected the lineup for those strikes we tried to keep it intact while we waited out the weather. I wound up leading the early morning crew for the night takeoff part of the effort. A 2:00 A.M. wake-up makes for short nights, and coupled with the other duties that kept us going until about eight in the evening, everything sort of ran together. But we just kept charging. Our little breakfast club was made up of the same group every day and after many days of the same thing it became difficult to work up a hearty smile or a strong appetite for greased eggs at 2:30 A.M. Normally we were not on the same schedule for too many days in a row and we could make up, to an extent, for lost sleep. But on this one, the weather in the target area would not break and the schedule would not change. We sat on this package for almost forty days before we got the job done properly. Some days we would get all the way through the briefing and be on our way to the aircraft before the no-go decision came in. Some mornings the word would be to divert to a lesser target; sometimes it was slip the schedule for two hours, and everybody tried to find someplace to fall down and catch a restless nap. Some mornings when we got diverted to lesser targets we would substitute the newer heads and let them build experience while at other times the first team would go to keep in practice. Many times we would launch and go all the way to the target, bombs armed and ready, only to have to break it off at the base of Thud Ridge when we knew for sure that we were skunked with the target socked in by low clouds and rain.
During that run of bad weather, Seventh lost its cool. The pressure was on all the way from Washington for us to get in and get out. Seventh got so jumpy that it insisted that the mission leader fly directly over the cloud-covered target before canceling the mission. It didn’t seem very wise to fly directly over the targets we wanted, day after day, if we wanted to retain any element of surprise, and it was plain dangerous. Why drag twenty-four of your best fighter pilots over the top of an undercast covering the hottest targets in history, especially when you’re making all of them SAM bait because they couldn’t hope to see a SAM heading their way through the clouds?
The decision on a mission like that rightly lies with the mission commander, the guy up front, and personally I never surrendered that authority despite Seventh’s temporary whim. It’s a tough decision to make and excited different sensations each time I faced it. I was usually the overall leader for both Thud wings and that meant forty-eight strike pilots and aircraft leaning on me. I didn’t want to take my people into a situation where they couldn’t see the target well enough to set up decently and bomb the way they should. You couldn’t dive-bomb flying straight and level a few hundred feet above the ground in a rainstorm. It was not wise to hurl forty-eight fighters into the face of a spectacular defense, then expect the pilots to mill around at 500 miles an hour, on different attack headings in the clouds, where they couldn’t see each other or anything else. I also knew that if Ho complained that any one of the 288 750-pound bombs that my strike force carried went a few hundred feet off target and hurt someone or something that Washington had not approved, McNamara and Lyndon would hold me personally responsible.
Regardless of whether it was a good mission that went all the way, a diversion, or a weather recce, we couldn’t go much of anyplace without the support of the tankers and their crews. When refueling became the way to go for the worldwide mobility concept, we generally associated the tankers with something that had to happen to get across the ocean once in a while. We suddenly found out that there was not a whole lot we could do without them in Southeast Asia and they became as much a part of our mission as the bombs we dropped. We were so heavy and overloaded that we could barely get off the ground and get organized before we needed fuel and we certainly couldn’t get to Hanoi without fuel on the way in. Extremely important to the preservation of ourselves and our forces, we couldn’t get back home from Hanoi without more fuel from the tankers.
For Mike McNamara, increasing fighter capability depended on the availability of tanker support. They didn’t have any tankers when they were at Korat the first time because they didn’t cover enough total miles to need them in those days. When Mike started flying the longer hauls out of Takhli he found out that we were still back in the dark ages of aerial refueling, but those tanker guys still did pretty good work for the Thuds. Those old KB-50 prop-driven tankers were slow, and when we started out with heavy fighters with a full load of bombs trying to poke that old-style refueling basket at 20,000 feet, those ancient tankers would have to keep diving from 20,000 feet to below 10,000 feet to transfer a load of fuel for a single fighter. Trying to hit those baskets on the end of a flapping rubber hose with a bunch of bombs on was a trick, but trying to stick there after finally catching it and fighting to keep from falling off or stalling out was some challenge. The entire operation improved dramatically when the jet-propelled KC-135 tankers arrived on the scene. They were far more compatible with the operating altitudes and airspeeds of the fighters. The fighter pilots could also depend on a stable refueling boom hanging there in space, as well as the skill of the refueling boom operator, or boomer, in the back end of the tanker. Those boomers saved lots of fighter pilot asses. -
At first the 135s were not interested in coming up North when the fighters were hurting for fuel on the way out. That was because of the way those tanker crews had been trained, or brainwashed. They were completely SACumsized????? at that point in time and their rules, which had them orbiting on refueling tracks pretty far to the south, were all they knew. Gradually they got the big picture that all concerned were fighting for the same side, and that if the Thuds called for help they really needed help. The tanker crews decided they had to take some chances along with the fighters, except they were taking their chances more against their own authorities than the enemy. Nobody was going to shoot them down in the MiG-free neutral area where the fighters asked them to come. Eventually the problem went away as the individual tanker crews would come to get a fighter out of a jam whenever they could.
Dave Groark remembers the fighter-tanker duo as a soap opera. One day when he was headed north on a Hanoi strike, Ray Lewis was bringing his flight back from a strike up around Thai Nguyen. Some of the tankers serviced fighters both ways, going in and coming out, and on that day Ray and his guys were all really hurting for fuel and were heading for the same tanker Dave’s flight was looking for on the way in. Ray had called that they were in bad shape and the tankers had moved as far north as they could. The thing Dave remembered most was being completely hypnotized by the radio drama that was being played out before him. The outbound flight was still looking for the tanker and it was a real emergency situation. They were very cool and very calm, but Dave could hear that they were hurting and got the feeling that they were just not going to get to the tanker and that we were going to lose four airplanes and four pilots. When they finally spotted the tanker the highest fuel gauge reading in the flight was four hundred pounds of fuel, which is something like fifty-nine gallons. The book says that if you’re at full throttle, fifty-nine gallons will keep the engine turning for thirty seconds. The low man’s gauges were on zero. It was like listening to one of those old radio suspense stories. Everyone on that radio channel could feel the tension as the wingman with his gauge showing zero plugged the tanker first and took a few hundred pounds of fuel, just enough to show on the gauges, then backed off so the second guy could get on before he flamed out. They rotated and juggled on and off the boom, calculating pounds of fuel versus survival for all four of them. But the tankers saved all four of them; they brought them all back. That was so exciting that Dave completely forgot about his own mission and the fact that he was going into the same fracas that the other flight was returning from.
The control of Pack Six targets from Washington was ridiculous, but so was the reaction down the chain right to the operating level. Nobody wanted to get Downtown as badly as the Thud drivers did. We were the ones who were humiliated by our own restrictions and we were the ones sharing in the loss of good people and Thuds. We were the ones going back time after time to nibble at what we wanted to eliminate and get it over with. If we had cleaned out what little there was up there that was worthwhile, that could well have stopped the foolishness down south. Then Downtown Hanoi would have been surrounded by tons of guns,, SAMs, and MiGs protecting nothing but each other. Since we were the only ones who knew what the defenses of Hanoi were capable of and who realized what it took to make a successful strike, we felt that we should have been allowed to participate in the design and the detailed mechanics of our strikes. But damned few people listened to what those who went there had to say about how to do the job right.
What we wanted to do in an area like Pack Six is pick the day and the weather and the time that was best for us; utilize surprise and imagination; then take advantage of our capabilities and strong points to clobber them. What we didn’t want to do was fly in, day after day, on make-believe dry runs over what we were going after in order to give the MiGs, SAMs, and radar tracking gunners lots of good practice until the day the weather would break and we really could roll in on the targets.
Swede Larson told of one particular mission that shows how the Pentagon got into the act. Early in the spring of 1967 the weather was really rotten up in Pack Six for a long time; it was just really socked in. The air force in Washington was nervous about trying to get some sorties going so they could have something to talk about. The navy had been very successful with its all-weather A-6 bombers, which were flying missions and getting all the publicity back in the States, while the 105s were all sitting on the ground. So in frustration, a frag order came in calling for two volunteers to fly a mission to hit a power plant up in Pack Six. The mission fell to Swede’s squadron. His ops officer, who had more balls than sense, volunteered for it and took another young Turk with him. They went up there in impossible weather: They dead-reckoned to the target area, let down on the gauges, somehow found the power plant on the second pass while milling around fully loaded under an eight- to nine-hundred-foot ceiling, and damned if they didn’t put a bomb right through the window of that power plant. The number-two man got a picture of it as he came in on his pass in staggered trail. It was one in a million that they would ever get in there, let alone get back out. Swede says that when they got back Willy Chairsell, his wing commander, who wore pilot wings but didn’t fly, was so tickled that he could get the powers to be at Seventh off his back that they really played the mission up. Next thing they knew, Saigon sent over a Silver Star for the leader and a Distinguished Flying Cross for the wingman. Swede’s ops guy told them they could stick it. He told them that if it wasn’t good enough for a Silver Star for both of them, he wasn’t interested and that was the end of that. It was just another example of the fact that politics and publicity controlled much of what Swede and all of us did over there.
The raids against bridges, rail facilities, and other industrial structures proceeded in parallel with the POL strikes, and if an outside observer kept track of the claims for bridges blown up it would be easy to assume that the North was made up of nothing but bridges. Sometimes it seemed that way to us. Quite often when we would attack a bridge we could see the replacement pontoon bridges waiting along the river banks. The North had a construction force of 600,000 laborers to repair bomb damage, and they did their bridge work just like they did their rail work and their road work, quickly. As soon as we knocked a bridge down they dispatched masses of laborers and put in substitute facilities while they rebuilt the damaged bridge. It doesn’t take much of a pontoon bridge to support bicycle and pedestrian traffic. If they needed to move something like a heavy truckload of supplies and the makeshift bridge would not support the truck, they used the people, bicycles, cattle, or whatever was available to haul the truckload, piece by piece, to the other side. There always seemed to be another truck, or another back, waiting on the other side to continue the journey. We did not match their sense of purpose and did not show the desire to do the interdiction job forcefully. If you go after a repairable target, then ignore it for a few months, you can bet the enemy will rebuild it if that suits his purpose. It’s tough to win a war in Asia with an attack plan based on the whims and schedules of the Oval Office rather than a calculated interdiction plan.
During 1967 Admiral Sharp was still trying to convince Washington that if the six basic systems were released to him, he could execute a systematic plan of attack with a high probability of relatively speedy success. Admiral Sharp’s requests were never honored. At the conclusion of one of McNamara’s many press conferences in defense of his policies, the press dubbed him “a man looking down a long tunnel with no patch of light at the end.” Those of us who did the fighting can only ask, “Who built that tunnel?”
One of the excuses that McNamara and his supporters made for not approving the entire JCS target list and for denying us authority to attack targets methodically was that bombing by itself could not win the war unless we attacked the civilian population of North Vietnam. Here is what McNamara said in his August 25, 1967, Senate testimony: “There is no basis to believe that any bombing campaign, short of one that has the population as its target, would itself force Ho Chi Minh into submission. Bombing the ports and mining the harbors would not be an effective means of stopping the infiltration of supplies into South Vietnam.”
McNamara’s contention that the North could not be forced to submit does not correlate with authoritative views from inside Downtown Hanoi. John Colvin was consul general at the British mission in Hanoi during 1966 and 1967. In his book Twice Around the World he reports that Hanoi had been accustomed to spasmodic raids that came in clusters over the period of a week or so and at predictable times, usually about 2:30 P.M. But after April 1967 it was impossible for residents to continue their normal routines due to increased U.S. air strikes. Even if the strikes were directed at outlying areas, North Vietnamese officials would insist on declaring them as raids against Hanoi itself and the sirens wailed up to thirty times a day. Colvin rated the bombing as effective throughout the North Vietnamese countryside, pointing out that there was only one undamaged bridge between Hanoi and Than Hoa in the southeast of the country. While the damaged or destroyed bridges were repaired by teams on permanent standby or were replaced by pontoon bridges, travel was restricted and slow. Movement was at night in convoys, constantly monitored, halted, and respaced by girl wardens stationed along the way. Colvin states that many villages and agricultural cooperatives were wiped out by bomb damage with high casualties due to attacks against North Vietnamese gun emplacements sited in built-up areas on their perimeters. Schooling, repair work, and cultivation were inhibited as alert followed all clear incessantly. Fuel supplies had to be cached in five-foot-round, ten-foot-long drums at various points along the road, virtually inaccessible to U.S. aircraft. Bicycles often played a larger role in transportation than did motorized vehicles, each bicycle being modified to carry a load of 440 pounds. A major cause of delay was the time needed to reassemble the pontoon bridges at nightfall, since they were regularly disassembled at dawn.
Colvin recounts that on May 19, 1967, he and his vice-consul walked to their balcony as the air raid sirens sounded: “As we stood there, seven or eight United States F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bombers, flying at scarcely roof-top height and no more, it seemed, than one hundred yards away, shot across our vision at what appeared—so tight was the space in which the whole incident was framed between houses and sky—enormous speed. They had come on us suddenly out of nowhere, the hard, sleek aircraft, in superb formation at approximately six hundred mph, disappearing for an instant behind the trees and buildings that lay between us and the power station (thermal power plant) less than one mile to the south, and then quickly climbing clear and away. . . . Almost simultaneously, such lights as were on in the apartment went out, the fan stopped turning, and a column of dust, smoke, and flame rose from the direction of the power station. (As the planes had penetrated the city’s defenses by coming in under the radar screen, the first antiaircraft batteries opened up only when the raiders had not only departed but were probably twenty miles away.) As we were shortly to observe, the performance of this squadron disposed of every Communist or other illusion about the laxity of American bombing or the imprecision of U.S. bombing techniques.”
When the all clear wailed and stillness descended, Colvin’s apartment, without electrical power for the revolving fan and air conditioner, was crushingly hot. He and his assistant went to look at the power plant and found the antiaircraft guns, surrounded by their agitated crews, sited among the trees in the park. They noted an air of tense activity, almost hysteria, as orders were bellowed and the men ran around their positions as if further attack was imminent. Fists were shaken at the sky and little groups of civilians whispered apprehensively together. The war had come to Downtown Hanoi.
The power station was an oblong, gray, brick and concrete structure about six hundred by three hundred feet, one hundred feet high, topped by tall chimneys. Significantly, it was surrounded by terraced houses. The flames had died down as Colvin approached it, but the dust still rose from the effects of the high-explosive hits it had taken. The chimneys had collapsed and the entire structure, gaping with holes, seemed to be listing drunkenly to one side. Colvin wrote, “There was, in our opinion, no hope at all for it. The accuracy of the attack had also been such that out of the complex of fifty or so small private houses around the power plant, only three had been at all damaged, and those from blast rather than direct hits.”
The next day the fans and the air conditioner in Colvin’s apartment were still out and the inside temperature rose to 140 degrees. He estimated that there was no possibility of restoring the electric power, saying, “Hanoi. . . must now be finished as a functioning industrial and economic city.” At that moment the lights went on and the fan and air conditioner came to life. Apparently mobile generators had been brought on line, as electrical power was not restored to the entire city, but only to the diplomatic area and to limited government buildings. For Colvin the lesson learned was “the astonishing preparedness and resourcefulness of the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietnam]; only continual air attack of the kind that Rolling Thunder had not yet initiated would surmount those qualities. But Rolling Thunder did, thereafter, or so it appeared to us, begin to do precisely that, although without again striking the power plants or other targets in central Hanoi. The objectives, attacked without respite for the next two weeks, remained on the periphery of the city. The noise of bombing and gunfire was almost continual, and the damage to Vietnamese equipment was considerable, but ... in early June, morale, health, and the flow of war material to Hanoi had not decisively diminished.”
However, by the end of July Colvin noted a growing sense of anxiety in Hanoi induced by the continued bombing. There was a belief that “Hanoi was going to catch it again badly,” but that perhaps the next step in escalation would be the mining of the port of Haiphong. A qualified medical observer told Colvin that he had seen the early signs of malnutrition among 60 to 90 percent of the children. Colvin summarized the changing situation by writing, “For the first time, I was beginning to believe that in spite of the history of that extraordinary people over the past twenty-two years, of their proven ability to stand far worse suffering in other towns and villages of the DRV than they had to withstand in Hanoi, of their tenacity, of the implacable aims of their leadership, they must have a physical limit sometime. I could not predict when it would be reached, perhaps not in 1967, nor what form it would take—presumably slow collapse—but unless the war were further internationalized, I thought that the limit might come.”
Colvin’s next series of firsthand observations soundly refutes the first tenet of McNamara’s August testimony before the Senate: “By September the evidence of malnutrition was clear among adults as well as children. . . . The population could barely get about their duties. . . . Food was not coming in from China. . . . American bombing of the entry points into Vietnam from China, as well as Sino-Soviet differences, had their substantive effects. . . . For three days there was no water supply due to failed electrical pumps. . . . Mass epidemic, in the already unsanitary conditions of the capital, could not have been far away. . . . The economy was at last breaking down. . . . The country and its people were close to collapse which, for the first time, no amount of excited exhortation could correct. And every morning since I reached Hanoi, the streets of the quarter had been lined with war materiel brought in overnight from China across the Paul Doumer Bridge, amphibious vehicles, artillery, armored fighting vehicles, surface-to-air missiles on flatbeds, saucily parked even outside the British and Canadian missions. By June their numbers had somewhat decreased. By August and September there were none at all. . . . The trains were coming no longer. . . . The country’s endurance had reached its limit. ... If the Americans continued to cut the railway lines from China and Haiphong to Hanoi and succeeded in putting the ports out of action the DRV could not pursue the war in the south and keep the North running. ... If the Viet Cong were really losing more men in the South than they could recruit locally or import from the DRV, then, failing Chinese intervention, the major war was over.”
But we were not permitted by our own national leadership to attack the targets that would have made the difference. McNamara and his associates said they did all they could to win, and then implied they were forced to spend much of their time in office trying to restrain a bunch of crazy pilots who simply wanted to terrorize the Vietnamese population and kill babies. They implied that we as professional air soldiers belonged in the same category as those convicted of atrocities at My Lai, and that they had no alternative approaches. That is not true and that untruth and those who espoused it cost our country dearly.
Admiral Sharp was rebuffed, the Vietnamese defenses proliferated, and the North continued to march south. In complete disregard of Admiral Sharp’s request, on May 23, 1967, the Washington leadership scribed yet another make-believe circle around Hanoi and advised Admiral Sharp that not a single bomb would be dropped within that circle. They further put him down by declaring that other specific areas, such as the port of Cam Pha, were completely off limits for any attacks if any foreign ships were in the harbor. That harbor was always full of foreign ships. We used to see them every day, waiting their turn to unload war supplies in the shadows of the surrounding Soviet and Chinese gun batteries. The ones flying Soviet flags were our own American-made Lend-Lease ships that we had given the Soviets back in World War II, but the flags of most of our allies were also there. This could really get to you, even in passing at five hundred knots, especially if you had just lost three or four guys and their aircraft only a few miles away.