Maj. Dick Wargowsky knew he had a good gunship crew when they destroyed 19 trucks in one night over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. He didn’t know just how good until they came back the next night and picked off 21 more to put them far ahead of the competition. Dubbed the “Polish Bandits” by other members of the 18th Special Operations Squadron, this AC-119K Stinger crew had many good nights of truck hunting behind them, but never two like this, back-to-back.
Only moments after they reached the target area, sensor operator Maj. Tom Vandenack spotted the first of many trucks he was to identify that night. “We started following a branch of the Trail and there it was, like a big fat plum just waiting to be picked.” A short burst of the 20mm cannons and the gunship was again prowling the trail for more targets. After blasting four trucks scattered down a short stretch of trail, the Polish Bandits found themselves orbiting a truck park near an intersection of two trails. Feeding corrections to the firing computer, the gunship crew managed to allow for an erratic wind and soon found they had destroyed eight more vehicles.
Triple – A
“We took an awful lot of Triple-A on those first trucks,” commented SSgt. Jimmy Grant, one of two scanners who hang out the back doors to watch for hostile fire, “I was really scared when that stuff started coming as close as it was.” Three more trucks were destroyed and three damaged once the Stinger moved back onto the trail. “We would have destroyed the damaged ones had we not run out of fuel and had to return to DaNang,” added Major Wargowsky, the aircraft commander.
Still brimming with pride from the previous night’s work, the bandits returned to Laos the next night under a shimmering white moon. With both sensors working overtime, they soon found themselves orbiting a truck park and storage area.
Just Beautiful…15 Trucks
“It was beautiful,” commented Major Wargowsky. “Everywhere the sensors looked, they found trucks.” It took less than half an hour for the Stinger crew to destroy 15 trucks and move on to greener pastures. A single burst of 20mm destroyed the next two they ran across, and a third was damaged shortly after. With fuel and ammunition rapidly running out, the Polish Bandits began to scour the area, looking for two more trucks to bring their score to the magic 40 figure. Each man participating in a mission destroying or damaging 20 or more trucks is entitled to wear a lapel pin depicting a 20mm cannon, a highly prized honor in the 18th. With about four minutes of target time left, the sensors located a pair of trucks, hidden deep under the heavy jungle foliage. Major Wargowsky lined up his gunsight and squeezed off a short burst. Whoom flashed the truck as it exploded into oblivion. The sensor informed him there were still two close together, not far from the gutted truck, and as he fired the burst which emptied his cannons, both trucks lit up in the dense Jungle far below.
“One of the major reasons we were able to get so many trucks was the fact the gunners kept the guns loaded as fast as I could fire them,” commented the pilot. “With the aircraft dancing all over the sky to avoid triple-A, it’s hard enough to even stand up back there, let alone lug ammo cans around and work on the guns.” Members of the Polish Bandit crew are:
Maj. Dick Wargowsky, Aircraft Commander
Capt. Bruce McFazdean, co-pilot;
Maj. Boyd Phillips, navigator
Maj. George Canterbury, sensor operator;
Lt. Col. Bob Butler, who filled in on the first night for Major Canterbury.
SSgt. Dick Reilly, flight engineer;
TSgt. Lee Schrodes, Sgt. Tony Eberhardt, A1C Johnny Lacy, gunners