The first VQ-1 plane arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam on July 17, 1964 after a 9.1 hour mission en route from Don Muang, Thailand.The next day the plane took off from Da Nang but lost an engine shortly after takeoff and had to return to Da Nang. The plane returned to Bangkok on the 20th and flew a 9.1 hour Bangkok to Bangkok on the 21st, also over the GOT. The following day the crew flew 8.9 hours Bangkok to Da Nang (over the GOT), and returned to NAS Cubi on July 23, 1964. These July flights were flown to look for evidence of MiGs and SA-2 missile sites.

At this time there wasn’t much military presence in Da Nang, and so both officer and enlisted crew were billeted together off base in an old French Batchelor Officers’ Quarters (BOQ) located one block over from the Sergeant’s Club in downtown Da Nang. The BOQ was in a walled compound and painted white, earning it the nickname of the “White Elephant.” Although the war hadn’t started in earnest, there was a bit of internal unrest within South Vietnam, which required the crew to maintain some sort of security watch. The missions were somewhat shorter, and two missions per day were not uncommon. When not flying, Doug Stenzel recalls drinking a lot of beer, playing poker, and TAP (a VQ version of blackjack).

Similar to the VQ crew, the Spook crew was probably hand-selected as well.  Larry Brosh, the Airborne Electronic Supervisor (AES) on Crew 21, remembered GySgt Frank S. Sutherland, Jr. USMC as an “I brancher” who flew all the missions, and CTC Thatcher, who normally sat Position 7 on the Willy. At least one additional CTI2 flew with the crew as well.  The NSG officer and linguists came from Naval Communications Station Philippines (San Miguel). Other CT crew included CTR2 Doug Stenzel from NSGA Kamiseya) and CTT2 Marvin ‘Mac’ Metheny (also from Kamiseya), who was assigned to search for non-Morse signals.

Although the accommodations were rather nice (compared with what was to come), some kinks had yet to be worked out with the equipment on the plane. The CTR position consisted of an R-390A receiver secured to a piece of plywood, which was in turn clamped to a table. Unfortunately since the installation was not grounded, the operator needed to wear some sort of gloves while operating the receiver to avoid being electrically shocked.

By LCDR Robert E. Morrison, USN (ret.)