The Day We Lost the Hoss.
By Thomas E. (Tom) Lee
Version 1.1, Revised September 1999
Version 1.0 November 1998
© Thomas E. Lee 1998-1999
This is the account of the loss of Forward Air Controller
Edward “Hoss” McBride, call sign RAVEN 30, on November 27, 1968 in Savannakhet
Province, Laos. It captures the drama as experienced by the players who
were fighting the “Secret War” in Laos late in November of 1968. It varies
significantly from the version of his death in Christopher Robbins’ book,
“The Ravens”.1 The Internet tribute to “Major McBride, The
Singing FAC” on the Air Commando Association (ACA) Home Page profoundly
influenced my finishing this paper as did the fact that the McBride children
were searching for more information concerning their father and his activities
in Laos.2 I knew I could provide some of that information.
Hoss McBride and I developed a close friendship during his five months
at Savannakhet. We flew together, worked together and partied together.
However, some of my most memorable memories of Hoss were the long talks
he and I shared late at night. I took his loss very hard.
This article is an extract from my on-going personal memoir project
concerning my experiences in the Secret War in Laos in 1968-1969 while
serving as a Project 404 Intelligence Officer.3 One of my duties
was to support the RAVEN Forward Air Controllers (FAC) in Military Region
Three (MR3) in South Laos.4 The core of this account is my personal
memories of that day at the AIRA Site in Savannakhet.5 Into
these personal recollections, I have interwoven important details drawn
from a variety of other sources.6 The dialogue is representative
and may not be actually what was said. However, it captures the flavor
of the exchanges that would have occurred. This story is not yet complete.
Further documenting of the drama and the players continues and should enrich
the details. But it will not change the basic facts presented here.
Regretfully, the article is not contextually complete. Were the complexities
of the the political, military and organizational situation in Laos discussed,
it would be at least twice the present length. Therefore, much of the big
picture setting of the event has been sacrificed for brevity.7 The
focus is on a single day's activities concerning a single person's mission
in the operational war. None of the known details of the November 27, 1968
incident have been omitted. The footnotes are integral to the article and
provide additional information for the reader’s better understanding of
the events. If the reader is unfamiliar with the Laotian aspect of the
Vietnam War, a review of the glossary before reading the article may be
useful. It will introduce a rather unique lexicon of terms, phrases and
codes used during the war.
1. See “The Ravens.” By Christopher Robbins, Crown Publishers,
New York 1987. pp 81-82. It is a challenge to dispute the mythology surrounding
the demise of a colorful character like Hoss McBride. As a chronicler,
Chris Robbins recorded stories provided to him. In the case of the “Candy
Bomber of Laos”, many of the events recounted in the Robbins’ book did
occur but not at the same time, nor did they contribute to his untimely
death. While flying with Hoss, I experienced a number of these events from
the back seat “sunroom” of the O-1.
2. See http://home.earthlink.net/~aircommando1/mcbride.html.
Until reading this tribute in August, 1998 I did not know what happened
to Hoss after NKP. During my research, I learned that his remains were
flown from NKP to Udorn by Air America. After a formal medical review,
he was shipped back to the States for burial. Hoss is buried in Hattisburg,
3. In mid -1966, the U.S. Department of Defense began Project
404, a covert augmentation of Deputy Chief Military Assistance Command,
Thailand (DEPCHIEF) and the U.S. military attaches in Laos. Under the program
about 120 USAF and USA personnel were administratively assigned to DEPCHIEF
in Thailand but served in Laos. DEPCHIEF was the unclassified cover for
Military Assistance Command, Laos.
4. In October, 1966 the U.S. began to station USAF Forward Air
Controllers (FACs) in Laos using the call sign of RAVEN. RAVENs were
volunteer FACs with previous Vietnam experience. They were in TDY status
and administratively assigned to WATERPUMP (Det 1, 56 SOW) at Udorn.
5. The AIRA Site was a USAF-manned operational site at Savannakhet
that supported the US Embassy target validation activities, the RAVEN FACs
in MR3, and direct support to the RLAF T-28Ds, plus other sundry activities.
The site had an extensive communications suite including a broad spectrum
of radios (FM, HF, VHF, and UHF), secure voice and message capability,
non secure microwave telephone to the US military network in Thailand as
well as a Savannakhet-based “telephone company of about 50 subscribers”.
The communications suite operated around the clock, 7 days a week. The
site had various call signs including TEXAS, CAPETOWN, and SMOKEY during
1968-1969. There were approximately 20 USAF personnel manning the site.
They included the legal Assistant Air Attache, and the “black” (covert)
personnel. All black personnel were “rankless civilians” referred
to as Mister. There were approximately four officer “misters” (AOC
Commander, 2 FACs and the Intelligence Officer). The remainder were enlisted
“misters”. Their skills included administration, communications, maintenance
(air and ground), supply, flight line support, EOD and medical. All covert
personnel wore civilian clothes as mandated by the U.S. Embassy.
Our cover was exceptionally thin, and was not of the “sheep dipped” variety
of people seconded to the CIA. Nevertheless we made it work. Occasionally,
I used the CIA for cover when I met former Air Force friends in Thailand
to hide our activities.
6. William Forsyth of Joint Task Force - Full Accounting (JTF-FA)
at the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) provided invaluable logs to tell
the SAR story as well as maps that allowed me to re-locate the crash site.
Charles Buckley, a former Det 1, 56 SOW medic at WATERPUMP, who flew with
Hoss in Northern Laos, confirmed accounts concerning the crash effects.
Captain Lee Gossett, the Continental Air Services Inc. (CASI) pilot that
flew the Beech Baron over the crash site, recounted his memories of the
7. The sources in the bibliography provide corroborative
information and are useful reading for a broader context of Laotian events.
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