On 1 March 1969, I piloted a U.S. Army OV-1 Mohawk, flying as wingman on a two-ship daytime visual reconnaissance/photo mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos. Our Mohawks were armed with 42 2.75 rockets. On completion of our tasked photo mission, we engaged a target of opportunity, rows of stacked fuel/oil drums hidden beneath a tree line. Lead rolled in and I followed. We got a number of secondary explosions and a large fire burning. On pullout, I was hit by a North Vietnamese 37mm anti-aircraft round, destroying my number two engine and shattering the leading edge of my right wing.
After regaining control of the aircraft and pulling both fire handles to extinguish the flames, I could only keep wings level by maintaining sufficient airspeed in a steady, slow descent. I flew as far as I could toward a friendly airfield to the northwest. We lost too much altitude to make it, but we went as far as we could. As we got low, I ordered my observer to eject. We did not have command ejection. After a good deal of hesitation, he finally pulled his handle, but not until we were coming into the treetops. I followed immediately, but not before the Mohawk began a right roll as I’d pulled the stick back to stop our descent. We were in about a 60 degree right bank and slowing through 80 knots — well outside the published parameters for the MK5 seat. I got enough cute deployment to separate from the seat, but had no oscillations before hitting the ground. Flight lead covered us with rocket fire until a USAF special operations helicopter arrived to pull us out on a jungle penetrator with the enemy in hot pursuit. A rough day in combat, a lucky day to have survived. Thank you Martin Baker!
On a subsequent tour of duty in Vietnam, William Reeder was shot down piloting an AH-1G Cobra attack helicopter and captured, spending nearly a year as a prisoner of war. He shares the account in his memoir, Through the Valley: My Captivity in Vietnam, published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press in 2016.