Escape to U Taphao

Henry Le remembers everything about his last morning in Vietnam. Then a 22-year-old second lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Air Force, he had landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base outside Saigon the day before, too low on fuel to make it back to his home base at Can Tho. At 4 a.m. on April 29, he was awakened by the concussion of rocket explosions. "I was in a bunk on the second floor of the barracks, " he recalls. "I sat up and for a few moments tried to understand where I was."
Today Le is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, having flown S-3 Vickings on active duty patrolling for submarines in Subic Bay and A-6 Intruders in the Persian Gulf. On that morning 21 years ago, he was a newly trained A-37 pilot with only a handful of combat sorties behind him. The Cessna A-37 Dragonfly was a small but capable attack bomber equipped with a 7.62-mm gun and able to carry as many as six 500-pound bombs under its wings. Le and his fellow A-37 pilots had been supporting ground troops and trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to slow the Northern assault that by then had tanks and artillery moving in a solid column down Highway 1 toward the capital. But not until the rockets began raining down on the suburbs of Saigon that morning did he know the war was lost.

Excerpt from Air&Space, January, 1997.