On my first tour (1969-70), I served in Vietnam with VMA(AW)-242 at Danang, flying A-6A Intruder aircraft.
During the course of about 10-months I flew about 200 missions, dropping close to 2-million pounds of bombs in South Vietnam and elsewhere. Most of our flying was elsewhere, conducted at night, typically single-ship in rain and cloud, at 500-1000 feet altitude, in valleys between the mountain ridges, and travelling as fast (450-500 knots) as the Hogship would go carrying 28 bombs, while the bad guys did their best to shoot us down.
My B/N (and still great friend) was Bill Carson, who I considered to be the best B/N in the Corps – through his skill and dexterity using radar and computer to feed information to my video screen and radar repeater, we were able to avoid limestone clouds as well as to rain death and destruction on our enemy.
We only lost one plane (our XO and his B/N) on my watch; though sadly, Tulane classmate Bob Kuhlman and his pilot were lost from the squadron a couple of weeks before my arrival in RVN. Initially, as a First Lieutenant I was the squadron NBC Officer and one of the schedule writers in Operations. I then spent almost two months (1 June – 28 July 1969) out of country picking up a new A-6 at the Grumman factory on Long Island and flying it to Danang – why it took so long is an interesting story in itself, but did not involve procrastination on my part – when delay was obvious, 1stMAW chose to have me wait rather than return to RVN. Piloting a tactical aircraft halfway around the Earth, much of the trip over vast stretches of ocean, using inflight refueling tankers on two legs, was a lifetime experience. Then (on return from the States), I was promoted to Captain and became the Admin Officer. I was the only company-grade officer in the squadron who was not tapped to serve TAD in the field as a FAC for 90-days. I kidded others that the CO kept me in Admin because I could read and write. Tulane classmate Ken Burns and I were able to visit a couple of times while in country. My father served in Vietnam at almost exactly the same time (arriving a week before me). Even though only one family member was required to be in country at a given time, I nonetheless elected to go. He served as Deputy Inspector General of Army Forces in Vietnam, among other things conducting an investigation of the Mỹ Lai massacre, even though it had occurred over a year before (16 March 1968) but only then reported. During our year in country, my father and I were able to visit on several occasions, the most notable of which was for my promotion to Captain, when he and the CO, LtCol Thomas L. Griffin, pinned on my bars.
Back at MCAS Cherry Point, I got into the Aviation Safety business, spending four months at NPGS Monterey learning about the field, before serving in that capacity at the Group level, and flying the F-4B/J, TA-4J, and TC-4C (Gulfstream-1) in addition to the A-6A. Then after serving for a year as Aide de Camp to Major General Leslie E. Brown, it was time to head back to WESTPAC.
Since I had not served with other than the squadron during my first tour, when I arrived in WESTPAC for my second tour in 1974, I volunteered to serve with the Grunts, and became the Air Liaison Officer for Second Battalion, Fourth Marines (2/4) aka the Magnificent Bastards. I was with 2/4 for the Marine Corps Birthday on 10 November 1974 at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. The Base and the Fourth Marines were both commanded by future-Commandant Colonel Alfred M Gray, Jr. For various reasons, as senior Captain in the battalion I was in command of 2/4 on parade for the Camp Hansen Birthday celebration – perhaps the only time that a Captain aviator has done so in the history of the Corps. My previous experience at the head of the Tulane Midshipmen battalion helped immensely.
After floating for some time (49-days in the Gulf of Siam), 2/4 performed Operation Eagle Pull (the evacuation of Phnom Penh) followed a short time later by Operation Frequent Wind (the evacuation of Saigon).
In Phnom Penh, as part of the Command group I was aboard the first Marine CH-53 in and the last to depart for the 1.5-hour flight back to the ship on 12 April 1975. On the ground I and my team took over control of the LZ from LtCol Curtis G. Lawson, my former squadron CO, and functioned as the LZ Control for our CH-53s, which due to LZ size-constraints could only land three at a time on a soccer field. My Battalion CO (LtCol George P. Slade) and I helped to load the then head of state of Cambodia, Saukam Khoy, and family onto the last lift of evacuees. Over 1.5 million Cambodians reportedly were murdered by the bad guys after we left. You can read about Eagle Pull in the following: https://www.vietnamwar50th.com/education/week_of_april_12/
After arriving off Saigon, the OpsO and I, wearing civilian clothes and packing heat, were put aboard a silver Air America Huey to meet at the DAO compound (on the fringe of Tan Son Nhat airport) with the country team and the CIA to work out details for the evacuation. We were up most of the night in meetings, only getting about 2-hours sleep. When we arose at dawn, the parking area was packed with shiny lacquered M-151 jeeps covered in white McNamara lace. On arrival back at the command ship, USS Blue Ridge, I informed the Admiral and General that the heavies from the RVN armed forces apparently had departed – so they knew the fall of Saigon was imminent before Washington was able to inform them. We finally launched into Saigon about a week later (29 April 1975) for the DAO compound, evacuating countless Vietnamese from there. Once again acting as LZ Control, this time for a two-aircraft zone (LZ 37), I was the last Marine to board the last CH-53 from the DAO compound at about 0015, 30 April 1975. The charges set by EOD blew the compound to smithereens when we were about a mile away. You can read about Eagle Pull and Frequent Wind from a military perspective in the following: https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/218/U_S_%20Marines%20In%20Vietnam%20-%20The%20Bitter%20End%201973%20-%201975.pdf
Shortly thereafter I was selected for Harrier training. It helped that I had learned to fly helicopters (CH-53D, CH-46F, UH-1E) with HMH-462 when embarked on USS Okinawa with 2/4.
After a couple of years flying AV-8A/C Harriers at MCAS Cherry Point, I was sent to the Naval Safety Center, NAS Norfolk as the sole Marine Aircraft Accident Investigator in an office comprised of 4-5 Navy officers. We traveled all over the world as singletons, in charge of various Navy/Marine aircraft crash investigations. In three years, I worked on 20 crashes involving 60 fatalities. One crash was classified Top Secret. I was in two foreign countries, Chile and West Germany (for five weeks as the US/Marine representative on a Royal Air Force board of inquiry looking into the death of an American Marine exchange pilot and loss of their Harrier). One other five week investigation involved pulling the wreckage of an H-3 up from 3,200-feet of water off St. Croix using a remotely operated vehicle (Deep Drone) controlled from a fleet tug (USNS Powhatan) – we also had a squad of SEALs in direct support. Another several-week-long investigation involved highly skilled divers from a Pearl Harbor-based Navy salvage ship using heated suits and breathing heliox in order to reach wreckage at 230-feet in Kaneohe Bay. We investigators were highly motivated to find the cause(s) in order to prevent further crashes. In this regard we were mostly very successful, finding faults that affected large numbers of similar aircraft in the fleet. Three of the pilots killed in jet crashes I investigated were friends; a fourth acquaintance successfully ejected. While at NAVSAFECEN, I flew with a Navy A-4 squadron and later became a C-12 plane commander flying Navy logistical missions along the East Coast.
Back again at MCAS Cherry Point, I flew the OA-4M in the fast-moving, very low-altitude FAC(A) role for the rest of my career.
Toward the end of my career I was the XO of MAG-12, commanded by Colonel P.D. “Drax” Williams (a future General) at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. In addition to EA-6, A-6, and A-4 squadrons, we had a Navy A-7 squadron attached, which I understand was a first in Naval Aviation.
During the course of my 21-year career in the Marine Corps, I was away from my family for about 4-years. It really pays to have a strong, capable spouse to keep the home fires burning when deployed.
In retirement, service in Vietnam has apparently caught up with me. I am now a cancer patient with Multiple Myeloma, which is a blood disease recognized by the Veterans Administration as being caused by Agent Orange defoliant from the Vietnam era.
K. C. (Kit) Corcoran
1966, Tulane, BS (Geology)
2004, NC State, BS (Civil Engineering)
Years of Service: 21 (1966-1987)
Years in Vietnam: 1969-70, 1975