Stinger Photo 79
"Vinh Biet Saigon "
(Painting courtesy of Tim Pham)
Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Republic of Vietnam - Farewell to Saigon is a painting by Tim Pham. Timothy Pham (He used to sign Guc on his editorial cartoon works) is a former ARVN soldier. He came to the United States as a refugee in 1975 and studied Fine Art at Elmira College, NY and Graphic Design at Platt College, CA. A Farewell To Saigon is one of Tim's VNAF aviation paintings he has been working on to mark the 30 year anniversary of the fall of Saigon (April 30th, 2005).
Webmaster Note: The story below, Last Stand, was sent to us by Tim and was collected from VNAF.NET
LAST STAND (documentary source from vnaf.net 'the end')
It was on April 29th, one day before South Vietnam ceased to exists as a country. A lone AC-119K piloted by Lt. Thanh "Cambodge" (because he had very dark skin like Cambodians) and Lt. Tran Van Hien (aircraft commander) of the 821st Attack Squadron had been in the air all night trying to defend the Tan Son Nhut air base perimeter. Early in the morning the AC-119K had to land in order to refuel and re-arm. The 821 AS Squadron Operations Officer, Lt. Col. Chung, had asked the AC119K crew not to take off again but the crew insisted. It took off again right away and some time later was joined by two A-1H Skyraiders belonging to the 518th Fighter Squadron, one of them piloted by Maj. Truong Phung, the other by Capt. Phuc "oi" (oi means throw up because he threw up a lot when he first learned to fly), acting as Maj. Truong Phung's wingman.
These three aircraft continuously strafed the advancing NVA and VC troops the best they could. At about seven AM, the fate of the AC-119K was sealed by an SA-7 Strella shoulder-fired missile. While the gunship was flying at about 3000 feet the missile scored a direct hit and severed one of the tailbooms, causing the aircaft to burst into flames and crash. One of the gunners, Sgt. Son, managed to bail out but the canopy of his parachute got caught in the tail of the AC-119K and he and the other crew members were dragged to their death.
Some time later, at 6.40 AM, Maj. Truong Phung's Skyraider unfortunately was hit by another SA-7 Strella missile and it plummeted to the ground, killing him. Capt. Phuc "oi"'s A-1H continued to strafe the enemy until all it's ammunition was expended. Phuc landed back at TSN at 6:50 AM. He is currently living in central California.
From a tactical point of view these missions were pointless. The crew knew they would not able to stop the enemy forever, and that their country was lost. Still they chose to take a stand and defend their beloved South Vietnam to the bitter end. They could have left the situation and head for Thailand, like so many did in those final days. They did not. They did more than their duty and paid the highest price.
Following is an update on this event from Van Thai:
The story about Lt Thanh's AC-119K and Major Truong Phung's A-1 shot down is not quite correct. I was # 2 in a formation of 2 Skyraiders from 514th squadron, Major Dinh Van Son (deceased in Houston, TX in 1995) was # 1. We took off from Can Tho (Binh Thuy Air Base) that fateful early morning and joined Lt Thanh's AC-119K over the East end of the runways of Tan Son Nhut Air Base. - Nga Nam Chuong Cho. We were working together, trying to stop the VC to attack the base. Lt Thanh was flying high above us, he was dropping flares and using tracers to pinpoint the targets for us because FAC was not in the air at the time after the first bomb pass, while turning South to get ready for another run, I looked up and saw Lt Thanh's AC-119K broken up and spiraled down to the ground and bursted in flame. At the same time, Major Truong Phung and Capt. Phuc were in the air for a close air support mission over the Southwest part of Saigon - Cu Xa Phu Lam. I heard over the radio that Major Truong Phung's A-1 was shot down in that area and he was presumed dead. Lt Thanh and Major Truong Phung were both shot down over Saigon in the same morning but not in the same area.
Lt Thai Ngoc Tuong Van 514th FS\ 3rd Air Division
We salute our Vietnamese Gunship brothers for their bravery, and our thanks to Tim Pham and Van Thai for sending this graphic and information.