MCARA War Stories

Clicking Off a NVA Truck

I never met a photo pilot or RSO that didn’t hate the SOB that decided for them that recon aircraft didn’t need to be armed. So every time you hear someone talk about flying alone, unarmed and supposedly unafraid, you can bet that at least two of the three were not by choice! Patience they say is the better part of a vulture, but photo guys can relate to the story about one being overheard as declaring “Patience my ass, I’m gonna kill something!”


The aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) leaving Pearl Harbor (Hawaii, USA) in April 1963. But getting on with the story which began in the Summer of 1965, we find a detachment of VMCJ-1’s RF-8As aboard the USS Coral Sea as part of the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club.They sometimes flew alone, always unarmed and of course unafraid except for departing and arriving on a 27C homebase. Our story is about the late John “Pappy” Dodson, then a 1/Lt., who was flying his lucky 13th mission over NVN in his trusty Crusader which was adorned by 12 cameras painted on its side by his ground crew. When he trapped back aboard that day the crew would paint a little yellow truck on the side. So, how did this 25 year old photo pilot from El Paso flying an unarmed RF-8A bag a NVA truck? Let’s go to an indisputable source, a NEWSWEEK magazine article, to get the story:


RF-8A CrusaderWhile photographing the results of a bombing strike near Vinh, Dotson was flat hatting* along Highway 1 only 100 feet off the deck at 500kts when he encountered a North Vietnamese truck coming from the opposite direction. The driver obviously did not know that Dodson only shot film. Recalls Dodson: “As we raced toward each other, I could see the front end of his truck beginning to skid and zig-zag as the driver tried to halt. I bore down on him a little harder, and the driver jumped out one way and the truck went off the road and down a hillside the other way.”

So far as we know Pappy was the world’s first and likely only photo-recon pilot to put an enemy truck out of action and have it all caught on film.

(Write-up by Col. H. Wayne Whitten USMC (ret).)

* Dodson could claim another first as he introduced yours truly, then a nugget 2/Lt. in VMCJ-3, to the art of pouncing on an unsuspecting cowboy on his sleepy horse minding his herd in the Arizona desert. He didn’t see that as flathatting but only refining his combat skills albeit there weren’t any sandblower missions that I recall in the EF-10B training syllabus. Besides there isn’t much they could do to him except make him a Lt. and send him to Vietnam! …. Flash